Web providers say no to discrimination online
JOHANNESBURG , (CAJ News) – SINCE the demise of apartheid in 1994, and the approval of a new Constitution two years later, the country has prided itself as a global model for democracy.
The country has vigorous multiparty democracy with an independent judiciary and a free and diverse press.
However, the Internet Service Providers Associations (ISPA) has spotted a glare in the absence of net neutrality. ISPA believes discrimination should not feature in the country’s online or real-world environments.
The association says there should therefore be no blocking or prioritisation of lawful websites, content, applications or services.
“Net neutrality affects every one of South Africa’s Internet users,” says ISPA Regulatory Advisor, Dominic Cull.
He explains, “An independent judiciary, regular elections, and a free press are traditionally seen as
some of the most important hallmarks of functioning democracy. To this list should be added net neutrality, or the inability of ISPs, government or major corporations to discriminate against Internet traffic or content they don’t want you to access.”
The expert notes South Africa currently exists in a net neutral environment that requires protection.Taking away net neutrality could radically slow the connections of local web users as Internet sites that requires lots of streaming data are blocked due to cost concerns, he says, adding censorship, too, could flourish in an online world without net neutrality.
ISPA is thus encouraged that the importance of this principle has recently been recognised by the Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, at a speech given at the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Summit, held in Barcelona, Spain recently.
Cull says all Internet traffic must be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, regardless of the sender, receiver, content, device, service or application.
“A net neutrality policy does not preclude reasonable and transparent network management by ISPs, but must prevent anti-competitive behaviour where selected data traffic is prioritised because of its low cost, or because its content pleases those in charge,” Cull says.
ISPA thus awaits the next local net neutrality milestone, which is the drafting of a white paper that was supposed to be published by the end of March.
The recommendations set out in the National Integrated ICT Policy Review Report published in March this year advocate South Africa adopting an “Open Internet policy” incorporating the broad principles of net neutrality centered on the nondiscrimination of Internet traffic, with the detail being left to be dealt with by regulatory authorities.
“The Internet was born neutral and that single most important founding principle should always be top-of mind,” says Cull .
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