Mucheru rules out blocking free access to Facebook


ICT secretary Joe Mucheru. PHOTO | FILE

ICT secretary Joe Mucheru has said Kenya will not go the India way of blocking free access to Facebook.

Mr Mucheru, however, told the Business Daily in an interview Wednesday that the government is yet to take a position on the Internet neutrality issue — which is what informed India’s decision earlier this week to block free access to Facebook in the Asian country.

The neutrality implies that Internet service providers should not create different pricing policies to favour those who can afford or discriminate against those who cannot.

Airtel Kenya has a similar arrangement with Facebook in Kenya, which allows the telco’s subscribers to access to social site even when their data bundles run out.

Users are required to access free Facebook by visiting or downloading the app in the Google Play Store.

“I do not think we should stop access to Facebook for those who cannot afford just because someone else cannot provide the same service — it is not fair,” said Mr Mucheru.

“If a hungry man has no food and a certain brand offers him bread, shall we stop the provider since another brand cannot afford to offer the same? That is ridiculous.”

Airtel subscribers also access other sites such as BBC News and Toto Health for free.

Mr Mucheru, a former Google executive, said that the government is currently reviewing the ICT 2006 policy to take into account issues of convergence, over-the-top businesses (such as Netflix) and Internet neutrality.

He said this would iron out the current uncertainties in the sector.

“Other small businesses and start-ups should instead find out how these other ones are doing to offer their services. Policy is different from stopping people with no access to get access to such services,” said Mr Mucheru.

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Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Monday announced that Internet service providers in the country would not be allowed to have discriminatory pricing plans for users accessing different parts of the Web.

The new net neutrality rules come barely two months after long consultations that saw Facebook (FB.O) launch an advertising campaign in support of its Free Basics program currently running in more than 35 developing countries, including Kenya.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive took to his Facebook page on Monday stating that the US tech giant is committed to breaking barriers to connectivity in India and around the world.

He said that “while they are disappointed with TRAI’s decision” they will keep working until everyone has access to the internet and make the world more connected and open.

Mr Zuckerberg noted that more than 19 million people in 38 countries have been connected through the program.

“Connecting India is an important goal we won’t give up on, because more than a billion people in India don’t have access to the internet. We know that connecting them can help lift people out of poverty, create millions of jobs and spread education opportunities,” said Mr Zuckerberg.