It is on again! The third African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) kicked off on Tuesday September 2015 in Addis Abba. The 2015 #AfriSIG is a diverse and dynamic group of people with different gender identities, expertise and age. Students include government officials, civil society, IT technicians, media practitioners, university students among others. Being at the AfriSIG is a whole new experience to me and has made me realise how little I know about the internet and internet governance in particular despite the fact that I use it every day. One of the remarkable assignments at AfriSIG has been the practicum where as students we have been grouped into four stakeholder teams which include the business community, civil society, government and the technical community. Each team were tasked to develop a policy statement on the subject of net neutrality and zero rating.
In this case, I was in a group that presented the interest of the civil society. Sincerely speaking, this assignment brought out the dynamics and complexities involved in public policy formulation process, the nature of stakeholders and their vested interests. Even within the individual interest groups, it was very difficult to reach a consensus because the groups were composed of different categories of people from different institutions. The civil society group, where I belonged composed of academia, a charity NGO, a multinational advocacy organisation, non commercial internet users, privacy advocacy, rights advocacy and a youth group. All these people have different values and priorities and at times they contradict each other. I also believe that this was not any different from other groups.
Furthermore, the nature of the policy issues were also confusing as it they seem to contradict each other. Net neutrality is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content and applications equally, regardless of the source, without internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites. On the other hand, zero rating refers to the provision of access to certain internet services by internet service providers in such a way that the bandwidth consumed is not charged to the customer. Although zero rating has been embraced as a solution to bridge the digital divide by increasing access and affordability, it contradicts the principle of net neutrality. Therefore it was very challenging for stakeholders to come up with clear positions within a few seconds given to them.
In actual fact, this discussion was a clear reflection of what happens in real policy negotiation and formulation processes between different stakeholders who have different interests especially the civil society organisation that are rarely given an opportunity to present their issues.
As I conclude, I would like to thank the faculty team of #AfriSIG for organising and facilitating this mock exercise that has exposed us to the realities and complexities of public policy making.