Net Neutrality in Developing Countries: As you forage across the Internet you may have bumped on the phrase Net Neutrality a couple of times and wondered what it is. This is especially so during this time when the US Federal Communications Commission’s chair Ajit Pai wants to destroy it.
The FCC adopted Net Neutrality rules in 2015 to keep the internet free and open following tremendous pressure from activists.
Net Neutrality is the general standard that allows for free and unrestricted access to online content. It is the general principle that anyone from anywhere can access any website and express themselves freely without hindrances of whatever kind.
This, therefore, means that phone companies and Internet service providers do not have the power to block certain websites or slow down internet speeds depending on how much you pay.
Net Neutrality is more of a myth in Developing countries, such as ours, given governments and ISPs exclusively or mutually decide on a whim to block content or restrict access to the internet.
It is not uncommon for ISPs on these shores to offer internet bundle packages priced differently depending on speeds.
For instance, some ISPs offer bundles that claim allows users ‘unlimited’ internet for, say, Kshs 50. However, once users reach a certain threshold, say 1GB of data, speeds are capped.
Other ISPs sell internet packages differently depending on speeds. Slower speeds are priced cheaper and the price increases as the speeds go up.
The case is no different across the African continent as teleco giants like Safaricom, Glo and MTN maintain a stranglehold of Internet service provision.
It is not uncommon to hear of cases where governments shut down internet access or block certain platforms, such as WhatsApp, during heated political times.
The governments mostly veil this gross violation of Net Neutrality with the excuse of controlling hate speech.
The absence of Net Neutrality has a myriad of negative consequences.
Activists do not have a reliable platform to speak against gross injustices.
Small businesses that rely on the Internet struggle to perform because they cannot reliably reach clients.
Innovation is chocked because young techies cannot afford the costs for fast and stable Internet access.
The above considerations necessitate that netizens rise up and agitate for Net Neutrality and defend it ferociously. For ISPs will choke innovation, business and free speech if they are left to control the Internet.