African countries 'open' to controversial internet proposal
- Published on 05 October 2012
Concerns are running high among experts that African countries are being roped in by a European telco body to help it get worldwide adoption of a controversial internet payment proposal.
The European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO) is calling on telcos across the globe to implement what is referred to as a ‘sending party pays’ rule.
This rule is aimed at making visitors to news websites, for example, pay telcos to have a faster bandwidth experience of that portal. According to ‘sending party pays’, users could have to pay more to watch, for example, a video link, which uses more bandwidth.
ETNO argues that this could help telcos, which are struggling with falling voice tariffs, to boost their revenues and invest more in bandwidth infrastructure to offer a better internet experience.
The body also argues that it does not plan to ring-fence the internet to certain users who can only afford it, but that site visitors could have the choice to pay for a superior offering.
However, experts across the globe have expressed their concerns of this recommendation, which ETNO is planning to get adopted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai in December.
Nick Ashton-Hart, the Geneva representative of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), says that apart from worries about people in poorer nations being excluded from the same internet experience as those in richer nations, the ‘sending party pays’ measure could also give oppressive governments more monitoring control over their citizens’ private communications.
Ashton-Hart further argues that ETNO’s policies regarding ‘sending party pays’ are being mooted by telcos, such as Deutsche Telekom and Telecom Italia, which have been the last to be deregulated in Europe.
He adds that ETNO’s policies have been rejected by the likes of the US and UK that have deregulated their telco markets earlier than that of Germany and Italy.
But Ashton-Hart says that African nations have given ETNO’s proposal a warmer reception.
"We've heard that there are a few African countries that are finding this proposal appealing because they think they can generate more money from it," Ashton-Hart told ITWeb Africa.
"ETNO is selling this as you would make more money out of this deal," he said.
Rohan Samarajiva, founding chairman and chief executive of LIRNEasia, an ICT policy and regulation think tank in Africa, says that the dangers of ‘sending party pays’ is that it could result in the localisation of the internet.
He says more paywalls could be setup as a result, and that very few Africans could then access this content, as they lack the funds or even the means to pay for it.
“Most people in our countries do not have internationally recognised credit cards,” Samarjiva told ITWeb Africa.
“So even if they were willing to pay, which I doubt, most of our people are not able to pay significant amounts for the information that they currently use,” he added.
But ETNO has hit back at these claims, telling ITWeb Africa that critics have misunderstood what the body is trying to achieve.
“The focus of the ETNO proposal relies on the definition of ‘quality based traffic delivery’ rather than on that of ‘sending party pays’ principle,” Gambardella Luigi, executive board chairman at ETNO, told ITWeb Africa.
“The ETNO proposal states that: commercial agreements between parties are on a voluntary basis. So, ‘sending party pays’ principle cannot be imposed; we want to guarantee that the involved parties will be free to decide,” Luigi explained.
Luigi went further to say in the interview with ITWeb Africa that “nobody would be cut off from the internet.”
“According to the ETNO proposal, a content provider could decide to continue to use Internet exactly as it is doing today, but, in addition, he will have the possibility to choose a ‘quality delivery service’ for all, or for a part, of its content, offering to end customers a greater experience.”
Luigi added that the proposal could boost the internet quality of service in developing nations, such as those in Africa.
The next step in ETNO trying to get its proposal adopted would be that of discussing it at the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) in Istanbul on 15-16 October.
Following this, ETNO will put forward its recommendation at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 3-14 December 2012. At this conference, individual country members will vote on the measures.
However, Ashton-Hart says this event is set to be a closed-doors affair, with potentially affected internet users across the globe not being able to attend or voice their concerns.
"Any other world conference that had an impact on a broader civil society, most people would be able to show up, be accredited and participate. But not the ITU's meetings. You can't show up," Ashton-Hart said.
“Until you know what's in the deal, and who's willing to be bound by it, you don't know what it's effect on the ground is. There is so much potential for unanticipated consequences especially in the longer term depending upon what you put in there.
“The ITU is such a secretive institution," he added.