Last year towards the end of the year, I was part of a panel during the Freedom Online Coalition Conference organized by the Government of Finland.

We were discussing many issues with a focus on open and accessible internet for all. The Freedom Online Coalition is a group of governments who have committed to work together to support Internet freedom and protect fundamental human rights – free expression, association, assembly, and privacy online – worldwide.

The panel was moderated by Jason Pielemeier and the first question he put to me was what does the terms like “openness, accessibility, and inclusion” mean to me and members of the Bloggers Association in Kenya. And he wanted to know specifically, what government policies promote these concepts, and which ones may impede them.

While reflecting on that question at the time, I thought about many things in Kenya, including the cost of data, the last mile connections, the calling rates and many others. What came out clearly was that open internet means open space for the public to share ideas, discuss issues affecting their communities and the country as a whole. It also means open door for innovation and creativity.

One thing that has become more pronounced for me in the last few weeks is the question on what government policies promote the concepts of “openness, accessibility, and inclusion”, and which ones may impede them.

Following the heated debate about the latest move by Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) to cut the Mobile Termination Rates to close to Ksh.0.12, I have been reflecting on how that move will affect those concepts. First, before you think about the internet, the basic connection between people within the country is through the mobile phones.

The mobile phones have changed the lives of Kenyans and the next agenda for the Government should be to try and build an inclusive economy. This will only be possible when people from all regions and economic backgrounds are able to communicate without having current existing barriers. And the cost of communicating is one of the biggest barriers. For example, most people from rural areas depend on their better off urban based relatives to call them.

Mobile companies like Safaricom understand this and it is the reason why they came up with technology like “reverse call” and “please call me”. It is easy to see why the move by CA to cut the Mobile Termination Rates should be supported by all and in fact should be encouraged to do more.

Odipo Riaga, a member of BAKE and a blogger on Kachwanya.com thinks the rate should go down to zero if possible.

“Personally, when I heard that the new MTR will be Kshs 0.12 per minute, I wondered why the rate can’t just be flattened to zero. The explanation provided by the CA as to why the rate cannot be zero is that that the MTR allows mobile operators to cater for the interconnection
charges.”

 

Apart from that, there are many areas within the country that still do not have network coverage at all. This is purely an economic issue. The reality is, getting network coverage to as many places as possible is an expensive venture and most internet providers do not have the resources to cover every part of the country. And that is where Universal Access Fund comes in. It can be argued that the Universal Access Fund has not been put to good use so far. It is one area that the Communication Authority needs to pull up their socks and do much as possible to ensure that the objective of the fund is being achieved.