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Posts Tagged ‘Zero rating’

In September 2015, I was privileged to participate in the third African School on Internet Governance(AfriSIG) that took place is Addis Ababa. The goal of AfriSIG is to give Africans from multiple sectors and stakeholder groups the opportunity to gain knowledge and confidence to enable them to participate effectively in internet governance processes and debates at national regional and global level.

The 2015 AfriSIG brought together  is a diverse and dynamic group of people with different, expertise, age and gender identities. Being at the AfriSIG was  a whole new experience to me and  made me realise how little I know about the internet and internet governance in particular despite that fact that I use it on a daily basis. One of the remarkable assignments at AfriSIG was the practicum where  students  were  grouped  into four stakeholder teams that  included the Business Community, Civil Society, Government and the Technical Community. Each team was tasked to develop a policy statement on the subject of Net Neutrality and Zero rating. 

Net neutrality is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content on the internet and applications equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites

On the other hand, a zero-rated service  refers to services that do not incur data costs and are exempt from data usage counts. This practice generally refers to mobile carriers offering free mobile data so that customers can access particular forms of online content and services at no additional cost to the carrier’s customers or without having associated data usage counted against the costumer’s usage allowance under the hired wireless service plan.

I was in a group that presented the interests of the civil society. Sincerely speaking, this assignment brought out the dynamics and complexities involved in public policy formulation process, the nature of stakeholders and their vested interests. Even within the individual interest groups, it was very difficult to reach at a consensus because the groups were composed of different categories of people from different institutions. The civil society group composed of the Academia, Charity NGO, Multinational Advocacy organisation, Non Commercial Internet user, Privacy advocacy, rights advocacy and a Youth group. All these people have different values and priorities and at time they contradict each other. I also believe that this was not any different from other  stakeholder groups.

Similarly, the nature of the policy issues were also confusing because  they seem to contradict each other. Net neutrality as mentioned above  is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content and applications on internet equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites. On the other hand, Zero rating refers to the provision of access to certain internet services by internet service providers in such a way that the bandwidth consumed is not charged to the customer. Although zero rating has been embraced as a solution to bridge the digital divide especially in Africa by increasing  internet access and affordability, it contradicts the principle of net neutrality. Therefore it was very challenging for stakeholders to come up with clear positions within a short period of time.

In actual sense, this discussion was a clear reflection of what happens in real policy negotiations and formulation processes between different stakeholders who have different interests especially the civil society organisation who are rarely given an opportunity to present their issues.

Thanks to  the faulty team of #AfriSIG for organising and facilitating this mock  exercise that  exposed us  to the  realities and complexities of  public policy making.

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