Netflix is the US based on-demand internet video streaming service that rolled out globally earlier this year. It offers subscribers an extensive array of streaming videos. Netflix is an expensive affair. To access it, you need a proper working broadband internet, a specialized device like chromcast to stream if you don’t have a smart TV or a computer, and pay a monthly subscription fee. This is out of reach of many Kenyans.

Despite it being expensive, Netflix will disrupt the Internet landscape in Kenya. It will bring Internet prices down, increase internet access and coverage, and increase competition in the industry.

Netflix is accessed through a broadband Internet connection. That means the 30 million internet users can theoretically access it. But they can’t since majority of them only have feature phones. Those with smartphones must be ready to break the bank to have enough data bundles to stream movies month in, month out.

Affordable unlimited internet is the only way many Kenyans will be able to access Netflix. How Internet Service Providers (ISPs) improve their products and coverage to cater for home users will determine the uptake of Netflix. Zuku, and Jamii Telkom (JTL) are poised to lead on this one because they relatively have the best products on unlimited fixed broadband access in the market. But they will feel the heat because the international Netflix traffic consumes a lot of bandwidth. This may lead to trotting bandwidth to survive. Cellular companies like Safaricom, Airtel and Orange too can capitalize on Netflix demand if they can have competitive unlimited broadband Internet. Airtel’s Unliminit product seem to be popular within the low income bracket. Satellite provides too can roll out VSAT and cover underserved regions. The entrance of Kenya Power in the fray may be what the consumers need. Bruising competition.

ISPs are barely scratching the surface with JTL having 7,486 and Zuku 50,000 subscribers. According to Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) data, broadband subscriptions increased by 19.3 per cent to reach 6.3 million in 2015, marking a penetration level of 14.7 per cent. Most of these being from cellular companies.

Our market is unique. The cost for Netflix alone is around 800 bob a month, but the cost of unlimited broadband is around 4000 bob. 800 bob can give you 16 DVDs in River Road, enough to entertain your family for a whole month. Technology must match the cost of buying a counterfeit DVD to dismantle that market. That day is coming.

To promote locally hosted content uptake, ISPs may need to discriminate between local and international transit. Netflix should setup a local cache, and ISPs should give an unlimited package for local content for say Ksh1000 a month, that will see local content production and utilization explode.

This may go against net neutrality principles, but since CA has not given any policy direction on the same, the ISPs may take advantage of it. A cache peering at the Kenya Internet Exchange Point (KIXP) will make the service really affordable because the cost of international bandwidth will be eliminated.

Every user I meet who lives outside the coverage area of fixed cable internet is praying that they roll out in their neighborhoods, although the ISPs are hesitant since the only wish to invest in areas where they have the highest return on investments.

I live in one of the most non digital estate, a place called “Rungiri rwa Ngwaci”, where my village mates may never have use for the internet and where zuku or JTL would never have thought of venturing. But with Netflix, we might see places like “Rungiri rwa Ngwaci” covered because my neighbors may see the use of Internet as a tool for entertainment.

When we reach that stage where internet is a utility like water and electricity, then we shall know development. Before then, let me renew my internet bundles before they expire. There is one more reason to have Internet at home. Family entertainment.

 

 


(Published in Daily Nation in Kenya, and at circleid)

A very Interesting meeting The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) with an ambitious theme of connecting the worlds next billion people to the Internet took place in early November in a beautiful resort city of Joao Pessoa in Brazil under the auspice of the United Nations. Few Kenyans paid attention to it yet the repercussions of the policy issues discussed affects us all.

Each year, there is one topic that takes the world by storm at the IGF. Two years ago, it was surveillance. This year, it was net neutrality. Net Neutrality in its most basic form is the ability of Internet service providers to treat all content that pass through their network equally without any form of discrimination. For example, Safaricom should not give preference to Wikipedia.com offering it for free, or Airtel should not give preference to Youtube, giving it a fast lane at the expense of other websites. There are many ways to which Net Neutrality is abused, among them giving fast lanes to certain services, traffic shaping, and zero rating.

Zero rating means the end user does not pay for accessing a certain service, but the service offerings are limited. For example, the user will only have free access to Facebook, or Wikipedia, and nothing else. The content the user can access is determined by those with financial power. And there lies the problem, limited access for the end user. You see, the Internet is a public good, an engine for economic growth and development. The utilitarian approach is therefore to have as many people have access to the Internet as possible for a nation to attain its economic potential.
At the IGF, researchers took sides on zero rating depending on their interests. A research in Asia revealed that zero rated services were an entry point for people who had no access to Internet, and those who used zero rated services converted to paid users after a while. Another research showed that people don’t use the Internet not because of the cost or availability, but because they don’t need it. Weird conclusion I can say. An interesting fact is; in communities where zero rated services were the norm, the users did not know the difference between the Internet and Facebook. That is a major problem if you ask me. Another research by Mozilla Foundation dubbed equal rating found that when users are given Internet bundles, they accessed diverse types of websites, not just one single website. But the big question was who funded these types of research? Facebook was accused of flying Cabinet Ministers from developing countries to expensive resorts in California to influence them allow zero rated service in their countries.

We should say no to zero rating because it leads to monopolistic behaviours, anti-competitiveness, and customer lock-in. Zero rating gives a false Internet because it removes incentives for giving the underserved regions a proper Internet. Remember the definition of Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks, not just a single website.  Companies running zero rated services are crafty and just want to add up number of users to their platforms to increase their advertisement revenue streams. Zero rating stifles innovation because innovators are not able to penetrate the market where market leaders with tonnes of money have directed all the users to their own services.

Zero rating is here with us. Airtel partnered with Facebook to offer Free Basics, a service that allows users to only access specified websites.

The government has not taken any steps to protect the users, and innovators among us from such demeaning service. What is more annoying is government inaction to formulate proper ICT policies that move with the rapid changing times. Can you believe the National ICT Policy was last updated in 2006? It is therefore sad to have a government with pools of policy expert, who cannot formulate a Net Neutrality policy. The government is getting everything wrong in ICT policy formulation. Isn’t it Plato who said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light!”

All that notwithstanding, the government should pay keen interests to the following points:

  • Zero rating is illegal in most of the developed countries. Ask yourself why.
  • Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) is a regulator and not a policy maker. Without policy on Net Neutrality, they have nothing to enforce thus leaving market players to their own devices, and anti-competitive behaviour.
  • The community, in an all-inclusive manner should develop a Net Neutrality policy.
  • CA is usually given targets to ensure universal coverage of communication services. They are very happy to maintain the status quo since they will report zero rated services as a metric of increased Internet access. This will be a big lie because they will have denied the rural folks access to the Internet. We all know one website is not the Internet. The best practice is to have the regulator pressure telcos increase rollout in under-served regions as part of their Universal Service obligations.
  • Zero rating infringes on fundamental human rights by denying users access to the Internet. It may be a conspiracy to keep developing countries in the darkness of the information age.
  • Let us advocate for universal coverage, better utilisation of Universal Service Fund, telecommunication infrastructure sharing, increased road coverage, accessible wayleaves and cable ducts, affordable energy, local content and hosting. All these will ensure the COST of internet comes down to a level where every citizen can afford.

As Vyria Paselk, Director of Internet Leadership at Internet Society put it, “if your country does not have access to the Internet, then you are not participating in the internet economy”. And isn’t the entire world now an Internet economy?

 

Mwendwa Kivuva is a research fellow at Strathmore University’s Centre for Intellectual Property and IT Law, and a fellow at Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET), Nairobi, Kenya.

kivuva@transworldafrica.com, Twitter: @lordmwesh


(Published in Daily Nation on Tuesday 19th January 2016)

Technology can help Kenya achieve free Universal healthcare, and make it efficient too.
Kenya is a country where its leaders have the temerity to gives its children dog food, as the leaders eat pizza.

Consider this; healthcare in public hospitals is pathetic. It has always been like that. The public hospitals are ill equipped, Patients share beds, subjected to demeaning service , drugs are missing, doctors are few and apart, and when they are available , they do speed diagnosis so that they can go back to private practice. This systematic ruin has led to years of neglect in our healthcare system. Persevering Kenyans are used to this. They have accepted the poor service as a standard, dreading when they shall fall sick. The struggling middle-class raise funds, take loans and insurance to go to private hospitals. They are trying to escape the failures of government, and are too busy to pressure the government to offer better healthcare.

This can change. And it would not cost an arm and a leg. Nearly all civil servants access healthcare in private hospitals. Private hospitals are doing booming business. They are equipped, pharmacies have drugs, hospitals are clean, and doctors are always on time. All this is paid by taxpayers, literally. And these private hospitals are conniving. They triple bills, conspire with patients for claims, and all manner of unimaginable malpractice.

The government could have a policy that requires patients whose bills are paid by taxpayers to only access treatment in public hospitals, from the President to the lowest ranked civil servant. The policy makers would therefore demand better services because it affects them directly, and the benefits of this would reach every Mwananchi. This way, government would prioritize healthcare the way they prioritize other infrastructure projects. Former health Minister Charity Ngilu tried to change public perception by insisting on being admitted at KNH whenever she was sick.

 

Assuming the 150,000 civil servants together with their families use Ksh100,000 per year on medical care, that translates to 15billion. If this is allocated to public healthcare, it is enough to build 4 hospitals the size of KNH every year.

 

It’s scandalous that one hundred and fifteen years since King George hospitals (now Kenyatta hospital) was built, there is no national Electronic Medical Records (EMR). According to the US which has a Health Insurance Portability and Protection Act (HIPPA), an EMR is a systematized collection of patient and population electronically-stored health information in a digital format. These records can be shared across different health care settings. Records are shared through networked, enterprise-wide information systems. EMRs include a range of data, including demographics, medical history, medication and allergies, immunization status, laboratory test results, radiology images, vital signs, personal statistics like age and weight, and billing information.

 

EMR systems are designed to store data accurately and to capture the state of a patient across time. It eliminates the need to track down a patient’s previous paper medical records and assists in ensuring data is accurate and legible. It can reduce risk of data replication as there is only one modifiable file, which means the file is more likely up to date, and decreases risk of lost paperwork. Due to the digital information being searchable and in a single file, EMR’s are more effective when extracting medical data for the examination of possible trends and long term changes in a patient. EMRs also facilitate population-based studies of medical records.

 

An EMR is ripe for Kenya which is committed to ensuring there is Internet in all health centers across the country by the year 2017. An EMR will bring efficiency to our hospitals and cut on costs, reduce the number of record officers, eliminate storage of voluminous files, and the time doctors spend with patients. Patients on the other hand will be able to access quality medical care anywhere in the country.

I hope the current CS Dr. Mailu can read in between the lines and rescue ailing Kenyans. From his resume, he’s an intelligent and accomplished man. He can convince the self-christened digital government to walk the talk. If he teams up with the ICT CS Mucheru, I believe that will be a winning combination in bringing meaningful change.

A healthy nation is a wealthy nation. With technology, and all of us eating dog food, we will achieve free universal healthcare.