Net Neutrality: An Avenue to Access?

Net Neutrality has been a buzzword in some circles for quite some time. Not without its reasons, it could be the solution that we need when speaking of issues of access and internet use.

I recently read an article detailing how some people in The United States are attempting to bridge the gap between data costs and usage and thought there’s a possiblility from us to learn from this.

First and foremose, lets break down what it is.

Net Neutrality:

Net Neutrality refers to the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally; not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

So lets say we are talking about streaming movies. Net Neutrality would mean someone in South Africa can load and view these at the same rate as someone in the USA, for the same price and it shouldn’t matter which platform they’re trying to do this from.

Another description given by Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu, is that it’s like a network, where all content, sites, and platforms are treated equally.

Like the India-USA comparison in the article, there are areas in South Africa where the out-of-bundle data costs are simply not affordable.

As a mobile-first country, it is worth looking into how we might be able to change this.

Emerging Economies:

The main issue highlighted when speaking of net neutrality is not that of speed which might be a problem for more developed nations like the USA, but rather one of access altogether.

The main question is how do we get the infrastructure and access to the related internet applications?

The article mentions that some companies like Facebook and Airtel zero are attempting to bridge this gap by making certain apps free of charge.

However, this model might not work in some emerging economies like South Africa due to the fact that we want ALL of the internet, and not just parts of it (Besides, doesn’t this just sound like a new version of digital divide anyway?).

Furthermore, to create and have an app available on these platforms also involves a number of rules and regulations so it brings in the question of if this is really as free and open as they say it is?

One last thought to ponder…what happens to all our budding developers when established applications get a monopoly over the market?

Hmmm, so before we have even begun, we have a number of issues to tackle…


One solution for the India-USA example was that in order to meet the costs of bringing all the needed infrastructure to emerging markets certain advertising models could be of use here.

So if you buy Brand A’s mobile device, you can get X amount of data for free for each month you are subscribed. Maybe take this further by integrating particular open internet applications directly to the device?

I think there could be a solution somewhere in this thought about how we could utilise this method in places like South Africa or even Zimbabwe.

After all, there are many large companies (Econet, TelOne, MTN, Vodacom, etc), not restricted to telecoms, that have such a huge stake in our market already, it could only make sense for them to invest in the development of our digital space.

While I am excited about the possibilities here, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. There are still so many things to consider before deciding if advertising is the way we should be going with this.



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