Opinion: Net Neutrality Will Kill Innovation in Africa

The following is an opinion piece by Ryan J. Yoder, Executive Director of ActivSpaces Cameroon in response to Net Neutrality key to growth of Africa’s SMEs

The net neutrality movement has been promoted by the good intentions of a group of people who want to insure that the internet remains a place of opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators. Unfortunately they have not truly understood the problem of net neutrality. While promoting net neutrality, they have already killed innovative services; however, the only innovations they have protected are future imagined startups that don’t yet exist (and may never exist).

Even the most basic understanding of net neutrality can expose the folly of its promoters. Net neutrality guarantees that that all network traffic is treated equally. No company can pay to put their website in the “fast lane”, which sounds nice. But if we really think about what we’re saying it doesn’t sounds as good anymore. Should ALL traffic really be treated equally? If a your mother is making an emergency phone call and the call is routed over the same line as her neighbors torrent of porn, should both really be treated equally? Would we not all agree that the emergency call should be put in the fast lane? So obviously not ALL traffic should be treated equally ALL the time. But this is just a hypothetical example. Let’s look at some real life examples of where net neutrality will stifle innovation.

In 2013 the Chilean government killed free Wikipedia for all its citizens (no need to pay for internet credit). This universal access to information is the exact thing net neutrality supporters are supposedly championing but that their policies are killing.(1)

In the US, Cricket Wireless subscribers can download unlimited music from the music service Muve Music without incurring extra data charges.(2)

In Kenya and Zambia, consumers can browse a set of useful health, employment and local information services without data charges via an app built by Internet.org. Net Neutrality will crush this innovative service and prevent accessing these services for free.(3)

In Cameroon, MTN has offers numerous internet bundles that give an advantage to WhatsApp traffic. Net neutrality will also kill this service.(4)

Also in Cameroon, football fans can pay 200 XAF (about $0.40) to stream the African Cup of Nations on their phone (from Nexttel). Again this service wouldn’t be possible if net neutrality is implemented.(5)

The list goes on.

What makes this issue all the more important for Africa, is the severely underdeveloped network infrastructure, which makes intelligent and innovative management of the “pipes” essential. If you have a 50 megabit connection at home, a dumb pipe (net neutrality) might make sense. But when you are trying to squeeze as many bits as possible through through a very slow completely saturated connection, you may want to innovate on how you manage traffic.
Let network operators regulate their traffic as they wish, UNTIL it becomes a problem, not before. Regulating problems that only exist in our future imaginations will end up causing more problems than it solves.

When net neutrality backfires: Chile just killed free access to Wikipedia and Facebook

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