Net Neutrality: How To Really Make Internet Free In Africa

Net Neutrality: How To Really Make Internet Free In Africa

In recent years, more and more Africans have made the transition from feature phones to smartphones and with this the demand for data is quickly becoming a major revenue source for mobile operators across the region.

But high data charges are leaving many African subscribers disappointed.

Unlike in developed countries where free Wi-Fi connections and unlimited data services are available to mobile phone users, In many African countries, where most of the internet access is done on phones, these options are usually not accessible or only open to corporate clients.

A recent survey by mobile surveying company Geopoll and World Wide Worx in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, showed that internet browsing via phones stood at 40 percent across these five major markets on the continent.

According to a report on Tech Crunch, the main barrier to connectivity in most developing region is the pure out-of-pocket cost of data that has crippled many users.

The report says an average person would need to work for 17 hours just to afford a 500MB mobile data plan and it can cost up to three hours of work to pay for just a single hour of connectivity in places like India.

In comparison, in the U.S., the cost for unlimited data per month on some carriers is just a little over three hours of minimum wage work.

Global tech companies such as Facebook, with its Internet.org platform and Airtel Zero are now taking advantage of this market disparity to cement their presence by giving free Internet that allows users to access certain websites and features even when they don’t have data bundles.

Experts say, though noble, these initiatives by Facebook and others are still falling short of enabling net neutrality in developed countries.

By using platforms like Internet.org or Airtel Zero, only a limited amount of internet is offered. This, experts says, would deter users from trying out local apps they perceive costly to access and thus killing innovation by local tech startups.

The solution to this would be to make it possible for African subscribers to access apps and online content for free without walls or restrictions, Tech Crunch reports.

One example is Orange partnership with Mozzila in a number of African countries to provide non-tiered access to the open internet through advertising.

This joint effort allows consumers in specific parts of Africa who buy Mozilla smartphones to get unlimited free Internet for a set period of time bundled along with their phone purchase.

This is geared towards drumming up sales for Mozilla’s phones, in return for subsidizing free unrestricted Internet access.