By Noel Minwagaw
If you are an avid follower of international news like I am then you have probably heard of the Trump administration’s decision to get rid of the “net neutrality” rule that was put in place during Obama’s presidency. For those of you who have no Idea what net neutrality is here is a brief intro:
Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use. This means that a company as big as Facebook and a small blog post owned by a teenager get the same treatment on the internet, even though Facebook can get the best treatment. Everyone has equal chance to express their views, basically it’s an extension of the right to free speech on the internet. But the thing is that this rule is enforced on internet service providers in the US.
So you might ask “why does this matter to us, if the rule is applied only in the US?”. I believe the answer is: one that most of the websites that are owned and used by Ethiopians are hosted in the US, two anything the US does is taken as a precedent around the world, and three is that most of the apps and websites that we love and use every day are owned by Americans and are based in America.
We are dependent…
It’s no mystery that our country has a long way to go with regard to technological advancements and we depend heavily on the innovation other countries make. In Ethiopia internet access is one of the lowest in the world and the fact that there is only one internet service provider in the country makes it worse. This lack of competition is the main reason our country’s internet access is low and prices are very high. I am going to stop here about the internet access in Ethiopia because I might veer off into a whole different topic.
When someone in Ethiopia wants to create a website they have to look for hosting companies abroad, because they present way better options than our dear ethio telecom. These companies give their customers a wide variety of options to choose from and they provide a very reliable service with great online support. They provide these services at a very competitive price and this makes them the obvious choice to anyone. So now that the internet service providers have been unshackled, no one really knows how the future is going to turn out. But my fear is that these internet service providers will favor those companies that pay more. If that happens then we would have to pay more to the hosting companies because they are paying more to their internet service provider.
And if we can’t do that our website will be slowed down and reaching our audience becomes harder. Basically what this means is that there will be a class division on the internet and we will be probably end up in the lower class.
The US leads and we all follow…
To avoid this relegation we might turn to hosting companies based in Europe or Asia, heck even an African company. But we have no guarantee that the ISP’s that these countries are based in won’t follow the example set by the US and scrap net neutrality.
I say this because a lot of countries around the world look to the United States for guidance, especially in tech related areas. I believe this is because the US has been able to have a successful tech business sector and other countries want to replicate that success. But in doing so we have to be careful that we can actually benefit from what we are doing rather than follow blindly. For example if we are going to forget about net neutrality in Ethiopia one smart scenario would be to go after big corporations. For instance we know Facebook has large number of users in Ethiopia, users it would hate to lose. Facebook makes millions of dollars every year because of these users, but does not pay tax in our country. So now we can forget about net neutrality too, assuming we have not already, and force Facebook to pay something so that it could enjoy its business as usual. The fact that there is only one internet service provider in our country makes the negotiation process easy. So I guess you could say that all the people who spend their day glued to Facebook all the time can actually benefit our country.