Indonesian Communication Minister Tifatul Sembiring has taken the discussion around the Indonesian BlackBerry ban in a strange direction, saying that the ban has nothing to do with porn, but is about RIM’s business practices in Indonesia. According to Sembiring, RIM is “taking too much money from Indonesians without even paying any taxes here.” He also adds, “the company brings no economic benefits to Indonesia, yet they take so much money from here,” he said. “And because the company is based in Canada, it pays taxes there, not here.”
While it’s true that RIM doesn’t have to pay taxes on the sale of BlackBerrys because they’re imported by local vendors, it seems like Sembiring is just trying to distract from the porn issue, which his party probably sees as a political hot potato, especially with respect to how Western governments perceive the country.
RIM makes a substantial amount of money from the explosive growth of BlackBerry in Indonesia. According to Sembiring, “with an average monthly subscription fee of $7 per customer, RIM makes a net income of Rp 189 billion [$21 million] a month or Rp 2.268 trillion a year.” This figure isn’t totally accurate because the subscription fee is paid to the carrier, and then a portion is paid to RIM.
It’s a little simplistic for Sembiring to think that RIM is pilfering the country’s wealth and offering nothing in return. RIM’s BlackBerrys are increasing Internet access in regions that the government isn’t otherwise servicing with land line infrastructure and where wireless signals can give users access more effectively. The productivity benefits of BlackBerry are well documented and greater smartphone adoption is going to have a positive impact on the local economy. It’s also important to note that the increase in Indonesian companies creating software for BlackBerry has grown tremendously. RIM doesn’t just provide a phone to Indonesians, they’re providing a new market that didn’t exist before they arrived. Maybe Tifatul has no idea that Dev Con Asia is being held in Bali, Indonesia.
So when Sembiring says RIM “brings no economic benefits to Indonesia”, he’s obviously trying to distract from the fact that his government is playing Net Nanny with its citizens.