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WCIT access-charge proposals are anti-poor says RIA’s Alison Gillwald

I keep being asked by journalists why well-meaning people like ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure are supporting the “access charge” proposals, that are warmed over ETNO rejects. I really do not know. I can only speculate. It may be that he has spent too much time in the rarefied climes of Geneva talking to CEOs of European telecom operators and participating in their “Twitter Storms,” and not enough looking at research on what is actually driving Internet use among the poor in his continent and mine.

My colleague Alison Gillwald heads RIA which conducts such research. Her comments on the rewarmed ETNO proposals are based on research and analysis:

Alison Gillwald, executive director at Research ICT Africa, says the proposals are anti-poor in implication. She points out that mobile operators have been successful in SA and more people are logging on with mobile devices.

However, the ETNO has proposed a transfer price regime, creating a sending party pays environment for when content is accessed. Gillwald says this would undermine the Internet peering arrangements that currently exist and on top of which Internet-based services, some of which are free, run.

“The concern with this is that it has the potential to create walled gardens for those able to pay a premium and potentially cut off those who could not afford to pay.” This would include those who access games, but also those who look up health and education information for free, apart from the data costs, says Gillwald.

“Internet content providers might not be paying operators directly, but they are driving up data usage exponentially, massively driving traffic and revenues for the operators.”

Gillwald adds that the African position is a bit more opaque and, as such, dangerous. “Through quite technical proposed amendments, it would essentially bring the wider content and communications service, in what is increasingly being referred to as the wider ICT ecosystem, under the purview of the ITR that have previously not been regulated and regarded as private economic activity.”

Arguing for “fair compensation for carried traffic”, such an amendment could bring a range of wholesale and retail price regulation, quality of service standards, carrier compensation, and even international financial support for universal service, says Gillwald.

I hope the South African delegation is listening and that it will give leadership to the African States that have been misguided by people who are trying extend discredited voice-telephony regimes to the Internet.

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