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Mobile operators denounce taxation on Digital Agenda in Brussels

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Belgium's three mobile networks, and their respective CEOs decided to meet on Friday 12 June 2015 to draw attention to what they say is the impossible choice that the telecom sector in Brussels may have to face.

This week, operators in Brussels learned in the press that the Brussels Government intends to apply a new tax on mobile telephony infrastructure in the Brussels Region. This tax aims to achieve a return of EUR10 million per year for the regional budget. It would give the communities the possibility to draw a similar amount, for a total sum of EUR20 million per year for the sector.

As a whole, the Wallonia and Brussels taxes combined would impose an additional contribution on the sector of over EUR70 million annually.

A striking contradiction

The operators say that they were never consulted about this project, and that the decision is even more surprising given that it stands in glaring contradiction to the aim of the Brussels Government to "make Brussels a digital capital".

Mobile operators already contribute substantially to the "collective effort". Every year, the sector contributes over 300 million euro to the Treasury in ISOC (corporate income tax) and annual expenses. More than 2 billion euro have been paid into public funds since 1995, through spectrum user licenses and various fees, besides the heavy investments made by the three mobile operators in the past 20 years throughout the entire territory.

Brussels, a hornet's nest

In Brussels alone, Proximus, Mobistar and BASE Company together invested up to 65 million euro in 2014 to develop their mobile telephony infrastructure. The tax as envisaged would constitute no less than 30% of annual investment in Brussels.

To top it all, a new tax on this infrastructure would be applied in a context in which the Brussels Region still imposes an emission standard on the sector (6 Volt/m) which is 50 times stricter than WHO recommendations. This standard forces mobile operators to increase the number of (taxable) sites needed to deploy 4G and 5G in the future.

Taxation or innovation, you can't have both

If the Brussels Region insists on taxing mobile telephony infrastructure, the operators that invest the most will in fact be taxed the most. Brussels has to understand that it can't have its cake and eat it too.

The CEOs of the three mobile operators agree that "Such a tax would not penalize the product of an economic activity but rather the investment at the very source of that activity. It would directly interfere with mobile communication, one of the building blocks of all economic, touristic and social activity in the capital of Europe".

They conclude, "We therefore call on the Brussels Government to act in a way that is truly in line with the priorities they announced, and, rather than creating new taxes, to build a favorable context for innovation and for the emergence of new technologies".

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Tags: Belgium