TUE 10 - 12 - 2019
Date: Oct 17, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanese govt to charge $0.20 a day for WhatsApp calls
BEIRUT: The Lebanese government will attempt to impose a fee of $0.20 a day for using WhatsApp calls and other internet calling applications, Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair confirmed Thursday.

“This decision is the decision of the Cabinet with all its political components and not of the telecommunications minister alone,” Choucair said.

Earlier in the day, local media reports said the government is looking at a plan to impose a charge on WhatsApp calls as ministers discuss ways to increase revenues in the 2020 budget.

The plan, raised during Wednesday’s Cabinet session, would result in a monthly charge of $6 if the user makes a call every day on WhatsApp. The proposal would impose a fee of $0.20 a day for any call made using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). This protocol is used by many applications including WhatsApp, Facebook call and FaceTime.

If the user made a call every day, a total of $6 will be deducted monthly.

For the total number of VoIP users, estimated at about 3.5 million, the Treasury would secure annual revenues of about $250 million.

With revenues from the telecoms sector declining due to the use of third-party applications for phone calls and messages, austerity measures need to be implemented in order to reduce the budget deficit and unlock funds from last year’s CEDRE conference.

Lebanon is already one of the most expensive mobile rates in the region and operates a telecoms monopoly with the only two service providers being touch and Alfa. While both companies are owned by the state, touch is operated by Kuwaiti provider Zain, while Alfa is operated by Egypt-based Orascom Telecom Holdings. Collectively they provide the second-largest source of state revenue after taxation.

The proposal immediately faced backlash on social media.

MP Paula Yacoubian said, “The people will not pay a single [Lebanese] pound on the platform it insults you [politicians] on.”

“Get the money by stopping your [suspicious] deals that you refer to as projects. The money of the Bisri Dam should be invested in electricity, which has a $2 billion annual deficit,” Yacoubian tweeted.

The dam, a $617 million World Bank-funded project that would create a 125 million-cubic-meter reservoir in the Bisri Valley – one of south Lebanon’s most culturally and ecologically rich areas – has been the subject of much controversy. The agency has said the project would benefit over 1.6 million people by installing a 26-kilometer underground tunnel that would move treated water to greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

Popstar Ragheb Alama also criticized the WhatsApp proposal, calling on politicians to “impose a tax on the polluted air the people are breathing.”

“It is a great idea and would even secure money for your father’s treasury,” Alama tweeted.

Hezbollah MP Ibrahim Mousawi called on Lebanese to “please not rush to judge things.” The MP said that Hezbollah ministers did not agree on the $0.20 fee.

In Wednesday’s session, the ministers endorsed measures to increase the state’s revenues and cut costs, including a decision to levy a new fee on tobacco products.

Another proposal is a controversial hike in the value added tax, which was vehemently opposed by Hezbollah ministers.

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