Opinion and Analysis

Internet proposals threaten future of Silicon Savannah

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The positive story of the proliferation of broadband access across Kenya is in large part due to its approach to allowing new technologies to enter the market and grow. /Reuters

The positive story of the proliferation of broadband access across Kenya is in large part due to its approach to allowing new technologies to enter the market and grow. /Reuters 

By Rohan Samarajiva

Posted  Sunday, October 21  2012 at  17:47

In Summary

Promoting a multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, incentivising private investment and turning away principles like “sending party network pays” will do more to promote the spread of the Internet than a command and control setup currently being contemplated by the ITU.

The Kenyan government, working with the private sector, has enabled consumers and businesses to thrive due to policies promoting investment in, and development of, Internet infrastructure.

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As a direct result of these forward-minded policies, the rate of Internet adoption in Kenya has increased almost 12 per cent in the past year, attracting 4.6 million new Internet users in Kenya according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) during this period of time. This is truly remarkable and a tribute to public-private co-operation.

The positive story of the proliferation of broadband access across Kenya is in large part due to its approach to allowing new technologies to enter the market and grow.

In 2010, Kenya’s exports of technology-related services reached $360 million, compared to $16 million in 2002.

The hundreds of start-ups that have appeared in Nairobi have earned the city the nickname “Silicon Savannah.”

Innovation and entrepreneurship flourish in the context of an open and dynamic Internet; the seamless Internet that exists today is a key ingredient in Kenya’s success story.

Standing in the way of Kenya’s continued Internet advancement, however, are certain proposals set for consideration at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which will occur in Dubai in December, and brings together 193 member countries and hundreds of other stakeholders to update the International Telecommunication Regulations, an international treaty that did not apply to the Internet so far.

Some countries and organisations appear to want to stuff the dynamic and flexible Internet into the straightjacket of an international treaty-level document administered by a lumbering international bureaucracy.

These proposals, if adopted, could potentially cap the ascent of Kenyan consumers and businesses.

They could endanger many other developing economies, especially those in Africa.

Furthermore, these proposals could effectively prevent Internet users in Africa from accessing some of the most valuable and interesting Internet content, such as Facebook and YouTube.

The centralised approach to Internet governance advocated by some is antithetical to the fundamental tenants that underlie the Internet, namely freedom to create and readily access the vast amounts of data and information for the benefit of all web users.

A multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance has served the people of Africa well since the Internet’s nascent stages.

This approach — whereby innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists, businesses and civil society have jointly overseen the light-touch regulation of the Internet — has allowed the Internet to become a powerful force for generating economic growth and social progress for the benefit of billions of people.

Some African government representatives and European incumbent telecom operators are proposing measures that could place unnecessary limitations on Internet users in developing countries like Kenya, inhibiting Internet adoption especially by the poor.

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