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Africa’s net neutrality debate loudest abroad

Africa’s net neutrality debate loudest abroad.

Across Africa there haven’t been any strong voices talking about whether or not zero rating is something that is a useful tool, said a Facebook official.

Speaking at the Mondato Summit Africa, hosted last week in Johannesburg, South Africa Ebele Okobi, head of public policy, Africa at Facebook noted that debate as to whether Facebook’s Internet.org application violates net neutrality, has been central across Europe and the US.

She added that when it comes to Internet.org - Facebook is criticised for creating a walled garden and that the social network is creating a fake internet.

Facebook’s Internet.org app is aimed at bringing internet access to the world’s population that is yet to come online by allowing access to certain health, employment and local information services without data charges.

However, in terms of the definition of net neutrality, internet service providers should provide open networks and should not block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks.

Net neutrality is essentially the definition of an open internet.

Okobi stated that Facebook’s zero rating service is criticised for privileging one service over others, however that conversation has been loudest in markets where access is not an issue.

“Across Europe and the US where people aren’t actually making difficult choices and where the majority of the population does have access to the internet,” she explained.

“There haven’t been very many voices from developing markets with the exception of India and Brazil, which I found very interesting,” Okobi said.

In India the Internet.org app came under fire for “violating” net neutrality laws. India's online activists expressed concerns over Facebook's control over all data accessed on the service (Internet.org) and said it violated the principles of an open web, according to reports.

According to Okobi the app is focused on affordable access.

If Africa’s internet penetration rate continues at a slow rate it does not bode well for economic advancement across Africa, she stated.

"We launched Internet.org in places where access is a critical issue, we didn't launch it in the US for example, or in London. The issues related to access in our view are catastrophic," she noted.

"Right now we have communities that are being left behind and we believe that at this moment we need short-term measures that address that."

Okobi explained that people ask why can’t Facebook offer the entire internet for free? That’s difficult only because as Facebook we are not in a position to do so, she said.

“There is nothing that Facebook does where we are presenting it as the answer to all questions,” she stated.

“At Facebook we say it is a tool along with others, it cannot be the only tool but it’s a very useful tool along with others in addressing the issue of affordable access in developing nations,” she concluded.

According to the 2015 ICT facts and figures from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) only 20.7% of individuals use the internet in Africa.

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