Challenges and Opportunities for Advancing Internet Access in Developing Countries while upholding Net Neutrality

Abstract

Net neutrality deliberations go hand in hand with discussions of upholding and preserving the openness of the Internet, widely perceived as a precondition to the realisation of the Internet’s potential. This is particularly relevant with access to the Internet being increasingly accepted as a basic right. Rules and regulations to uphold net neutrality exist within various jurisdictions, and in both developed and developing markets. With mobile data plans as a primary mode of Internet access in developing markets, the practice of zero-rating – where mobile network operators enable customers to download and upload online content without incurring data usage charges, or having their usage counted against data usage limit – is closely interlinked with net neutrality deliberations. The overarching question is whether zero-rating defies the principle of net neutrality, by favouring some content over other content. The challenge for policy makers and regulators in developing countries, as addressed in this paper, is knowing which regulatory frameworks will be needed to expand Internet access to underserved communities, without compromising the fundamental principles of a free and open Internet.

Access to affordable Internet is increasingly a development priority, and even considered a basic right. There are huge economic and social benefits to be reaped from Internet access, as evidenced by gross domestic product contributions, as well as projections. However, a majority of the world’s population, most of who are in developing nations, remain unconnected. A crucial policy debate on how to avail Internet access, while upholding and preserving the openness of the Internet, also known as net neutrality, is emerging as state actors, private sector players and civil society alike operate in this space. The practice of zero-rating – where mobile network operators enable customers to download and upload online content without incurring data use charges, or having their usage counted against data usage limit – is one of the most popular approaches to getting the unconnected online. This follows the fact that the mobile phone is the primary device through which the ‘next billion’ Internet users are expected to get online.  The overarching question is whether zero-rating defies the principle of net neutrality, by favouring some content over other content. The challenge for policy makers and regulators in developing countries, as addressed in this paper, is knowing which regulatory frameworks will be needed to expand Internet access to underserved communities, without compromising the fundamental principles of a free and open Internet.

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The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in the Journal of Cyber Policy, published 08 May 2016, http://www.tandfonline.com, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23738871.2016.1165715

 

Author: Nanjira

That curious geek chic.