Net Neutrality: a brief

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By Jaaziyah Satar and Malcolm Kijirah

Net neutrality is the concept of free access to the internet.

Net neutrality has many advantages and disadvantages. The success or failure of net neutrality in a State has been relative, from a case-to-case basis.

Net neutrality advocates argue that keeping the internet open playing is crucial for innovation; if broadband providers pick favourites online, new companies and technologies might never have the chance to grow. Furthermore repealing net neutrality would lead to broadband providers being “gatekeepers” of the internet (who have the power of defining what websites and services are accessible). Customers would find themselves in a helpless position at the hands of broadband providers. This goes against the idea of net neutrality giving Internet users more freedom without service provider interference.

Adding on to the point above a handful of large telecommunications companies dominate the broadband market. As a result they have the power to suppress particular views or limit online speech depending on who can pay the most.

For example a broadband provider may allow some companies to pay for priority or special treatments on broadband networks. The amount for these special treatments may be high and every company may not be able to afford and access it. Large companies would be able to afford premiums for next-generation internet services and higher priority lanes, but startups with no buying power will be squeezed out. That’s relevant in the engineering space, with a lot of innovation happening around Artificial Intelligence and robotics. Innovators are concerned that broadband provider will become “arbiters of acceptable online business models

On the other hand advocates against net neutrality argue that the internet is and should remain a free market. They also argue that less regulation of the internet leads to more investment. Telecom companies can recoup investments quicker by developing innovative premium services around security or artificial intelligence.

Repealing the net-neutrality rules will remove “regulatory uncertainty” for broadband providers, and encourage them to boost spending. Net-neutrality rules created additional legal burdens and scare away potential investors. There are legal compliance costs associated with following the net neutrality rules that end up being financial burdens.

It’s important to note that companies need to compete with one another by trying out new business models and products; when prices fall, quality rises, and customers benefit. The competition between businesses also creates choice for customers who have access to different mobile plans with different pricing tiers for different levels of video quality for different apps. (More choice leads to increased innovation and products due to competition).

Leaving internet regulation and policing to political/regulatory bodies slows down its dynamic growth due to the time taken to come up with cohesive laws/regulations. For example the Net Neutrality laws in the United States of America have changed numerous times in the last decade. This is not a pro-innovation environment given the uncertainty and constant regulatory changes.

In Africa “more than 98% of African broadband connections use mobile networks.” Policy makers find themselves stuck between creating policies that will encourage and innovate Internet players and protecting telecom operators.

Citizens of Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo are requesting for telcos to slash data prices due to the fact that most of these citizens earn lower incomes and are unable to pay for broadband data (which is usually at a higher cost). It would make no sense, in their situation, to pay half their income to data when they have food to put on the table.

However it is important to recognize and acknowledge that African startups are upcoming and fast growing. As a result they require “unencumbered access to broadband pipes.”

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