End of Net Neutrality?

Hi All,

So – I have kinda hesitated to wade into the net neutrality debate – but having given it a lot of thought – I need to state that what follows is entirely a personal perspective – and I have to start this with a disclaimer – to state that the views expressed below are personal – and not necessarily the views of any organisation to which I am affiliated (though also not necessarily contrary to those views either).

Firstly – in my eyes – it is kind of ironic that our own lack of content generation on the continent is the one thing that is saving us from dealing with massive net neutrality debates, yet at the same time, the one area that is stunted by our lack of action on net neutrality. Now, let me unpack that a bit:

1. When all content is externally created – the ISP’s are not going to preference one over the other – there is no incentive to do so – we are the middle men to supply our users access to the content they desire – and provide the best experience possible for that content – and to start picking and choosing content would be certain death – because users would simply go where they could get the content they wanted where it wasn’t being screwed with – so this helps us.
2. However – we also talk constantly about content creation – and if we create content that is successful – this situation will change – and change fast – and if we aren’t prepared for those changes – we could be in trouble.

Now – with a.) and b.) in mind about specific content – let me now contradict myself – and say that we are already violating net neutrality in the market on a massive scale – to the detriment of development on the continent. So – what do I mean by this:

1. There is zero rating going on – it is used to attract customers. Mobile networks zero rate whatsapp, or zero rate facebook, or zero rate youtube – this is a violation of neutrality – and it is *BAD* for the local market.
2. The moment one network zero rates – others will follow – and forget the stance on net neutrality – this is business reality. If it comes to a choice a network has to make between a violation of net neutrality vs losing all the customers and going bust – net neutrality is going to lose – all day – every day. This is also actually necessary – because if net neutrality forces ISP’s into a non-profitable position – they cannot invest and grow the penetration levels in the market. As such, unless there is legislation forcing an equal footing for everyone – violations of neutrality are inevitable and necessary. Because anything else leads to a non-equal playing field and violations of neutrality become a competitive advantage. This is part of the reasons why so many ISP’s will remain silent on the subject of neutrality – they want the ability to zero rate to give themselves competitive advantage. And as much as the content providers sit and wave the neutrality flag – it must be pointed out that in the case of zero rating – they are as guilty as any other party. I point out that in India – facebook was ruled against for violation of neutrality for zero rating.

So – now let’s tie the two sections above together.

Lack of content generation saves us from the standard net neutrality debate – but – we are violating net neutrality through allowing networks to zero rate types of traffic – and at the same time – and this is the kicker – killing off content generation by allowing zero rating to continue. And here is why:

If an individual comes up with an idea for the next facebook, the next youtube, the next whatsapp, the next – they rely on the fact that when they take it online – users will accept ir or reject it based on the quality of the application. In a situation where networks are zero rating specific apps to attract customers – this situation is no longer reality. Because now, your content creators are competing against apps that users can access *free of charge* while their new start up apps – require people to pay to access them – in the form of speed caps, data bundles etc.

So – we already have a net neutrality problem – and we need to do something about it – and I personally would love to see some proposed legislation to address this problem. Kenya may be well advised to look at the stance that India has taken on this – where zero rating has been outlawed – and net neutrality is forced by law. I personally think work on this would be far more beneficial to the industry than wasting our time with an ICT practitioner bill which so many worked so hard to defeat and is now rearing its head again – despite the fact that it represents a far greater danger to the Kenyan industry than any violation of net neutrality ever will.

These are just my personal thoughts – and I will also state – as someone involved in strategy for a major continent wide network – and having fought for a free and open internet for years – I am more than willing to engage on this subject and contribute to any debate or meetings around this. So – if I can offer anything to the neutrality debate – I’m here – and available any time ☺


From: kictanet <kictanet-bounces+andrew.alston=liquidtelecom.com@lists.kictanet.or.ke> on behalf of \”Wamathai (HapaKenya) via kictanet\” <