Net Neutrality and Zero Rating was the trending topic in this year’s 2015 IGF in Brazil. People took sides depending on their interests. For example, 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 went on and converted to paid users after seeing the benefits of the Internet. Another research shows that people don’t use the Internet not because of the cost, but because they don’t need it. Weird conclusion I can say. And some interesting facts 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 that Mozilla Foundation was involved in found that when users are given Internet bundles, they accessed diverse types of websites, not just FB and Wikipedia. But the big question was, who funded these types of research? An interested party would of course ensure research results are tilted to their interests.

All that not withstanding, we should pay keen interests to the following points,
1. Zero rating is illegal in most of Europe,  And USA. Even in Brazil, zero rating is not acceptable. Ask yourself why.
2. 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, including abuse. Us the community, in an all inclusive manner should develop a Net Neutrality policy that can be adopted.
3. CA are usually given targets to ensure universal coverage of communication services. I am sure they are very happy to maintain the status quo since they will report zero rated services as a metric of increased 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.
4. 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. Refer to point 1 above.
5. Let us advocate for universal coverage, better utilisation of USF, telecommunication infrastructure sharing, increased road coverage, accessible wayleaves and cable ducts,  and affordable energy. All these will ensure the COST of internet comes down to a level where every citizen can afford.
6. Countries with no proper access to the Internet will find it difficult to participate in the Internet Economy. And isn’t the entire world now an Internet economy?

There is more, but these points are what comes to mind.


In May 2015, ICANN President and CEO Fadi  Chehadé announced his intention to resign from his position before end of his tenure. Although this shocked the ICANN community, it should be viewed as a good thing to have a new CEO post IANA functions transition.
Over the few years, ICANN has put concerted effort to internationalize itself, appear to be a legitimate global organisation. This has led to ICANN setting up engagement offices and  hubs across Europe, Asia, North and South America, which is commendable.
For ICANN to appear serious with the Internationalization attempts, and for the U.S Government to demonstrate commitment that it is transitioning IANA functions to the International Multistakeholder community outside U.S control, it would be important for the board to show committed to appointing a CEO outside US while still maintaining the quality and traits needed.

 


I was privileged to be  a speaker in the 2014 IGF in Istanbul, Turkey in a panel on Policies for promoting broadband access in developing countries.

We realize that while technological solutions are advancing rapidly, policy and regulations remain a significant barrier to affordable internet especially in the developing world.

Three in five of the world’s people are not connected to the Internet. In developing countries only 31 percent of people are online; and in the world’s 49 least developed countries, less than 10% have Internet access.

Some policies for reducing cost of broadband and increasing access in Africa have been suggested over the years. I will discuss some of them

Kenya launched it’s broadband strategy in 2013. The bold document projected to roll Internet in all schools and hospitals by year 2017, and increase the speeds for broadband in urban areas by 2017 to 2GBPS and 500MBPS in rural areas. Some of the areas I identified that need more consideration in policy development are:

  1. Proper use and monitoring of Universal Service Funds (USF). We need better management of USF and community involvement in how the USF are used. The USF should not only be used to provide infrastructure investments in under-served regions, but also promote digital literacy.Digital literacy will ensure the community knows the value of the Internet and how it can improve their lives. Political goodwill. In Kenya, USF was formed under an act of parliament in 2009, but the USF management board was inaugurated in July 2014. Operators are required to pay upto 0.5 per cent of their annual turnover to the USF kitty. The snail pace in implementing USF ensures the dream for broadband access to the masses is delayed, and even deferred. Transparent and consultative processes, incorporating stakeholder inputs and priorities is a must for the success of the USF. Currently service providers are not happy they were not included in the management of the funds. Internet end user representatives like consumer federation of Kenya, and Internet Society should also be part of the team that advises on how the USF should be used.
  2. Reduced luxury tax on infrastructure equipment, end user devices, and services especially in undeserved regions. Those living below the UN poverty index of $2/day have other priorities like food, and health. Cost of broadband is as high as 90% of income on population with low per capita income. According to a report by Alliance for Affordable Internet ( A4AI), the key to affordability is the policy and regulatory environment that shapes the different actors in the market. Reforms to make markets more open, competitive and socially efficient are often the best and quickest way to drive prices down and increase broadband use.
  3. License Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) who ride on existing infrastructure from competitors. This reduces investment capital outlay by new players while increasing broadband coverage. In 2014, Kenya  licensed two MVNOs.
  4. Efficient spectrum management. Open, transparent, and fair allocation and licensing mechanism.
  5. Foster Innovation, like the use of TV white space, and other innovations. License Plain FREE community internet service in least privileged areas. An example is setting up free MESH networks and connecting the communities to local community servers with open access content like Wikipedia, open streetmaps, OwnCloud storage, news, local agricultural content, free e-books, municipal portals, chartrooms, and a directory for all these content.
  6. Sharing of resources by service providers. Masts, fiber cable, e.t.c. The end user will foot the bill if every provider has to compete laying infrastructure that has less than 10% utilization overall. Allow service providers to use infrastructure setup through taxpayers money. This is more so through the legacy government owned telecommunication  monopolies that litter the landscape across Africa. An example is the National Fiber Optic Cable (NOFBI) laid across Kenya by the government with a target of 80% reach. It is not fully utilized. Private sector can make use of these resources instead of laying parallel infrastructure. In the broadband strategy, the government has pledged to increase the coverage of NOFBI by an additional 30,000KMs
  7. Streamlined processes for infrastructure deployment. Efficient and effective access to public rights of way Coordinated with other infrastructure projects (fiber or duct laid during road works)
  8. Establish IXPs. local and/or regional internet exchange point (IXP), and have data caching. AXIS project in Africa though partnership of ISOC and AU has already setup about 4 IXPs and held training across the continent.
  9. Energy. There cannot be access without affordable sustainable electricity. Electricity is very expensive per kilowatt in developing countries. This cost is usually passed down to users. Developing countries should seriously look for permanent ways of solving their perennial energy problems. Computer laboratories can be powered through solar and wind energy.
  10. Content. Develop policies that support relevant local content that users will feel the need to consume. Most societies have solved the content problem to a greater extend.
  11. Data collection of key indicators to measure effectiveness of the strategies implemented.
  12. Move from talking to acting. Concrete policies and better regulation and monitoring. All these are possible through collaboration and improved relationships between the business, governments and local communities.

The Internet Society (ISOC) has been working with the African Union (AU) to facilitate the African Internet Exchange System (AXIS). This AXIS project funded by the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund and the Government of Luxembourg will help keep Internet traffic in Africa internal to the continent and avoid expensive international transit costs and delay latency in routing Internet traffic through other continents. The Axis project was established by AU in 2010 while ISOC has partnered with Africa Network Information Center (AfriNIC) to make the project a reality. According to AXIS IXP Regional project, the AXIS will “reduce traffic load on upstream providers, reduce cost, increase speed, and reduce latency for inter-country exchange of traffic and enhances internet usage in the region.”

ISOC continues to stay real to its mission “to promote the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world” and has strived to take the internet to every corner of the globe. Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) enable Internet Service providers (ISPs) to exchange Internet traffic between their networks thus reducing the ISP’s traffic that must be delivered through upstream transit providers therefore reducing the cost of the service. So far, Africa is increasing the number of IXPs implemented therefore reducing the consumer’s cost of data carrier transit charges. The Axis project will help spur the growth of local content, and improve local hosting initiatives within the continent. Upcoming African Internet entrepreneurs have relied on renting servers and hosting their content on datacenters outside the continent. Initiatives like AXIS will change the status quo and enable more datacenters to be setup on the continent. Other factors that have contributed to low penetration of local content in Africa include expensive electricity that power datacenters and a culture where content is not necessarily written or digitized but passed down from generation to generation through word of mouth.

Successful IXPs have been implemented in over 20 African countries with South Africa leading with five IXPs. The AXIS project has successfully launched four IXPs in Bujumbura – Burundi, Windhoek – Namibia,  Mbabane- Kingdom of Swaziland, and the latest being in Serrekunda – Gambia in July 2014. Several capacity building workshops have also been held across the continent in Botswana, Rwanda, Nigeria, Egypt, and Gabon to strengthen existing IXPs.

The AXIS project aims to have 80% of Internet traffic exchanged in Africa by 2020, keeping local traffic local. This is truly one of the Africa’s Internet success stories.


My region has many Internet governance issues. I would like to handle the topic of “The Internet as an engine for growth and advancement. “

Access to the Internet can change lives of many people in the developing world producing plenty of opportunities for the youth, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders. Access to the internet in Africa is primarily through mobile phones.

Many young people are unemployed, yet we can harness technology to assist them improve their livelihoods. Opportunities for the youth can be made possible through introduction of affordable phones, training the youth on mobile application development, incubation of youth businesses that are developing new innovative applications that run on mobile phones and finally, providing employment opportunities for these young innovators. Economic empowerment of the youth will lead to self sustainability of these nations. In the past few years, cost of mobile phones has decreased, enabling access to majority of citizens in developing countries. According to a research by iHub Research and Research Solutions Africa conducted in mid 2012, (Crandall, 2012) noted that “16% of Kenyans at the BoP1 Internet on their mobile phone” This has also been made possible because cellular companies have reduced cost of operating mobile phones by providing cheap calling rates and internet.

As the barriers to access of the phones have been broken, the youth have showed great innovation through development of applications. One such application in Kenya is the iCow that enable farmers to keep health records for their livestock. Other applications being considered will enable farmers get competitive markets for their produce through introduction of a commodities exchange market, and access of competitive market price information. Ushahidi on the other hand is an application that can solve crisis problems of crime, delinquency, and disasters by use of Crowdsourcing.

Opportunities for entrepreneurs can be made possible where governments are stable and they enact favorable policies and regulations for investors. This will attract major companies to establish bases in developing countries and provide funding to local startups. The firms will provide business solutions like mobile banking, provision of micro loans through mobiles,

and mobile money transfer services. A good innovation in the Kenyan market because of favorable business environment is the world famous M-PESA, a mobile money transfer platform.

For many of these positives to become a reality, policies and regulations that affect the access to phones and the internet should be formulated. In Kenya, counterfeit phones were switched off September 30th 2012. The communication commission ordered telecommunication operators to block phones that don’t have International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI ) number from accessing network services. The main reason was that the phones pose security risks to the country because the users cannot be tracked, and also counterfeits deny revenue to the genuine manufacturers. About 1.5million phones were switched off, affecting many users at BoP. (Chebusiri, 2012) Should Kenya have taken a different road? Such policies of locking out the poor from accessing the network only serve to enlarge the digital divide. The digital divide is not only about people of lower economic class not affording mobile phones and internet, but a research conducted by (Scott & McKemey, 2002) revealed that less women have access to phones and internet than men, and less educated people are likely to use these technology than those with high school diploma. Tracking mobile users’ activities poses serious questions of privacy, and incline towards abuse of basic human rights.

Internet Service providers do bandwidth trottling to Peer to Peer (P2P) traffic especially when enforcing copyrights, or metering videos that clog their networks affecting the Quality of service (QOS) for the majority of average users. Accessing the internet through handheld phones as it is the case of developing countries tackles issues of net neutrality since mobile phones use less bandwidth, and they don’t have heavy applications that affect the QoS of other users.

All in all, developing nations should concentrate on having concrete policies, laws and regulation, having stable governments, educating the youth, and encouraging strategic investors to fund local businesses in the technology field. This will enable the nations to create more wealth and improve the livelihoods of their citizens, as well as benefit from foreign exchange and better balance of trade caused by exporting technology.

Bibliography

Chebusiri, W.w., 2012. BBC News – Kenya’s battle to switch off fake phones. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19819965 [Accessed 24 October 2012].Crandall, A., 2012.

How the Kenyan base of the pyramid uses their mobile phone | *iHub. [Online] Available at: http://www.ihub.co.ke/blog/2012/10/how-the-kenyan-base-of-the-pyramid-uses-their-mobile-phone

[Accessed 24 October 24].Scott, N. & McKemey, K., 2002. The use of Telephone in Rural and Low Income Communities in Africa. In 42nd Meeting of the CTO Council. London, 2002.