Kenyan work-from-home employees feel pinch as tax revision raises Internet costs

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When the COVID-19 pandemic struck Kenya in March 2020, George Onyango, with other employees of a bank he works for in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, was asked to start working from home to curb the spread of the disease.

Onyango has not returned to working from the office since then, with the investment banker having converted one of his bedrooms into an office.

Months into the work-from-home arrangement, he installed fiber Internet at his home to facilitate his job.

“I did it because of the turn of events. Without the Internet, I would not be working from home. I do everything online including meetings,” he said on Wednesday.

In a month, Onyango has been paying 3,500 shillings (about 32.4 U.S. dollars) for the unlimited Internet package.

This week, however, the banker received a notice from his service provider that Internet charges would be raised following a move to adjust upward excise duty by the government.

Onyango is among thousands of Kenya’s work-from-home employees, online learners and other Internet users who will feel the pinch of higher charges.

The 5 percent excise duty increase on the initial 15 percent by the government from July 1 spares mobile data.

Kenyans with home and business Internet are among the worst hit since voice and SMS charges have also been increased.

“Following the government’s move to adjust excise duty on airtime and telephone services to 20 percent from 15 percent, we have reviewed our prices to reflect the change. The cost of fiber to the home and fibre to the business has been reviewed accordingly,” Kenya’s leading telecommunications firm Safaricom informed customers on Wednesday.

With the advent of COVID-19, thousands of Kenyans went for home fiber Internet connection as work-from-home and online shopping and schooling became the norm.

The new charges are thus expected to affect workers, homes, students and businesses using fiber services at a time when uncertainty looms over COVID-19.

“I may not be able to access the Internet at the speed I want due to the high charges since I would have to downgrade the speed to save costs,” said university student Brian Njoroge.

Njoroge, who is attending online classes, bought a Wi-Fi hotspot gadget, in which he loads 25 dollars a month from his pocket money.

“With the Internet costs rising, I pray that the COVID-19 may be brought under control so that we resume physical classes. Otherwise, as students we may not afford the Internet for the long-term,” he said, adding his colleagues in rural areas are already finding it difficult to attend online classes due to high costs.

Use of the Internet surged in Kenya with the advent of COVID-19 with citizens installing home fiber while others buying Wi-Fi hotspot and modems.

“The saving grace is that mobile Internet, where the majority are, has not been affected,” said Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solutions, a software development start-up in Nairobi. Enditem

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