SA pushes for net neutrality amid policy review

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Mobile internet services are set to dominate in SA. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Mobile internet services are set to dominate in SA. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - The department of posts and telecommunications has come out in strong support for the principle of net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the concept of treating all web traffic equally.

Debates around net neutrality are raging in places such as the US where some telecom operators and internet service providers are proposing that online content providers should pay more to have priority treatment of their offerings, such as faster download times of their websites.

Opponents of this, though, say this would violate net neutrality and risks preventing smaller internet startups from competing with bigger established players.

And South Africa appears to be siding with supporters of net neutrality.

"Everything has to be done at a policy level to ensure that a new digital divide is not created. The digital divide could be around the question of those who have fast lane - meaning that they have access to faster services - and as a result, better services," Joe Mjwara, policy review head in the department told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services on Tuesday.

The call for net neutrality comes as government is trying to put together a comprehensive information and communications technology (ICT) policy which is expected to deal with issues such as expanding internet access in the country.

Net neutrality battle

Internationally, some companies have lobbied to be allowed to charge premium rates for high speed data services such as online video.

In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been involved in lawsuits as companies dispute its authority to impose net neutrality rules.

Closer to home, Mjwara insisted that a key recommendation to government was that consumers should be protected from practices that disadvantaged them.

"There is an unfair power balance between big corporations who dish out their services and individuals who subscribe to those services. Public interest demands that there should be this protection of the end user so that the end user can recognise their rights which are enshrined here."

He added that the department was more concerned about how the policy review could impact on the way South Africans accessed the internet and related services.

"We needed to remind ourselves that quite up front that the object of this exercise was the realisation of socio-economic rights of people as they are outlined in the Constitution."

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