Pay up or what, Indonesia?

UPDATE: LINE, BBM on Board for In-Country Office Plans, The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia’s Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara said that during a recent visit to Silicon Valley, President Joko Widodo (or “Jokowi” for short)  called on giant tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix to open their branch offices in Indonesia.

jokowigoogle

(Photo credit: GovInsider.Asia)

The purpose, as outlined by Indonesian finance minister Bambang Brodjonegoro, is so that they will be required to pay local taxes. In addition, they will have to obtain “permanent establishment” status, which can be in the form of either establishing a representative office or a full-fledged company. The Communication Ministry estimated that, in 2015, digital advertising from Indonesia was worth about $800 million

Aside from taxes, Communications Ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu also told Reuters that the government is interested in regulating content related to terrorism and pornography, which I am sure they hope would be easier to do if these companies have representatives/offices in Indonesia. It is worrying given the lack of transparency and accountability in Indonesia’s content control processes.

In 2014, I wrote an op-ed in The Jakarta Post on government regulations that stifle freedom of expression online, and co-authored a report about the government’s decision to block Vimeo, a video-sharing website.

Earlier this month, a commission at the Indonesian House of Representatives recommended that the Communications Ministry ban websites which “promote and propagandize LGBT content” and to issue regulations to restrict content on that topic. In February,  the Ministry also instructed over-the-top (OTT) providers like LINE and WhatsApp to remove lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) related emoticons and stickers from the local market, with the reasoning that they “need to respect local culture and values.”

A legal decree mandating tech giants to set up shop in Indonesia is expected to be issued at the end of March, and to be implemented in April. The government said that it will block services that do not comply, or reduce their bandwidth.

Rudiantara, however, is not very optimistic, and has said that the companies were “unlikely to respond the call.”

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