As if arbitrary taxes imposed on people in Lebanon weren't enough, the country's government tried to charge WhatsApp calls earlier this week.
During a cabinet session held on Wednesday, officials discussed a plan to impose fees on WhatsApp calls and other online communication apps. However, late on Thursday, Lebanon's Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair backtracked on the entire plan amid public uproar and country-wide demonstrations.
The proposal was set to impose a fee of $0.20 a day for any call made using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). "This protocol governs several apps including WhatsApp, Facebook call and FaceTime," according to The Daily Star.
The minister had previously confirmed that the plan was going forward in an interview with Al Jadeed TV. His confirmation came just hours after local media reported that the government's planned taxation was part of measures aimed at increasing revenues in the 2020 budget.
Had it passed, the tax would've resulted in a monthly charge of $6 for users who make daily calls via WhatsApp. It's estimated that there are around 3.5 million VoIP users in Lebanon which meant the fee could've potentially brought in $250m in annual revenues — taken from the people.
Lebanon is already considered one of the most expensive in the region when it comes to mobile rates and operates a monopoly within the telecommunications sector. The two service providers, Touch and Alfa, are said to be the country's second-largest revenue stream after taxation.
News of the latest levy proposal comes at a time when millions of Lebanese are struggling amid an economic crisis that has affected the country's currency and several of its vital sectors. Activists believe the country's woes are partly driven by political corruption and the government's inability to set economic priorities.
Enter Exhibit 1:
Officials agreed to spend $75 million on a new building for Alfa Telecommunications Company but were unable to secure funds to maintain helicopters needed to put out the devastating fires that recently swept the country. The state's now-failed ludicrous bid to make more money out of an already struggling population sparked outrage among thousands in Lebanon.
The proposed "WhatsApp bill" also led thousands to take part in demonstrations that took place in Beirut's Riyadh Al Solh Square and several other cities across Lebanon. Rioters refused to back down even after Choucair pulled the plug on the tax plan. Many of them explained that the movement wasn't just a reaction to the proposed bill, but a response to the government's lack of proactive plans and solutions.
People also vented their frustration on social media
Locals took to Twitter and other online platforms to vent their anger at the entire situation. Naturally, some turned to humor to ridicule what things have come to and honesty, who could blame them?
Very few people posted in favor of the now-canceled decision but their opinions were immediately met with plenty of counter-arguments. Many explained that taxing people over their WhatsApp usage goes against the company's very own legislation.
WhatsApp is a service that's free of charge all around the world. The app's legal information page clearly states that it's prohibited for any third party to sell, resell or charge for their services.
"You must not (or assist others) to sell, resell, rent, or charge for our Services," a note on their official website states.
The company does warn users that data charges might apply to calls made via cellular plan packages, however, it makes no mention of any possible tax or fees they might be subjected to.
People were outraged by the proposed tax
Because it was nowhere near logic
Memes rolled in
Accurate ones, too
People turned to humor
1 missed call = I left home.
2 missed calls = I arrived."
"No one remind them of our building's intercom, they'll tax it"
"The Lebanese government in the future"
When you're taxed for this
"The only thing bugging me about this whole thing is that I am going to be paying a tax for a phone call that goes like this:
- Hello, can you hear me?
- Yes, hello...
- Fix your connection