The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) recently released a notification inviting members of the public including “all affected and interested parties” to a consultative meeting on establishing an internet industry code of practice.
The commission said it was seeking input from stakeholders in the development of a code of practice “in support of an open internet”. The meeting which was slated to hold in January has, however, been postponed to February 9, 2018.
The provisions of the code of practice which a source told this writer was initiated by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), are; 1) protect the rights and interest of internet service providers and consumers. 2) Provide jointly agreed and effective solutions to the issues of discriminatory traffic management practices; 3) Ensure adequate safeguards are put in place by service providers against abuses such as unsolicited messages; 4) Outline the obligations of service providers in relation to offensive and potentially harmful content for minors vulnerable audiences; 5) Promote the safe, secure and responsible use of internet services with due regards to provisions in existing legal instruments; 6) Establish best practices for internet governance in Nigeria, in line with emerging issues and global trends; 7) Provide transparent rules for the assessment and classification of internet content; 8) Increase stakeholder satisfaction through improved consumer experience online.
The code of practice is still at the proposal level. Hence, the consultative meeting is being projected as a platform where businesses and individuals that are going to be affected will raise their concerns and suggestions and have the opportunity to dialogue with the sponsors of the code.
However, the mere idea of the existence of a code that seems to regulate activities on the internet has already drawn the ire of some rights groups who told BusinessDay that they plan to oppose it, as it goes against the fundamental rules of net neutrality.
Net neutrality refers to the principle that governments or its agencies should mandate internet service providers to treat all data on the internet the same and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. In essence, it prohibits service providers such as Comcast, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and NiRA from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites people want to use.
Supporters of net neutrality describe it as “the way the internet has always worked.” According to Save the Internet, a rights group that has outpost in Nigeria, “Net Neutrality is the internet’s guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online. Net Neutrality means an internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that ISPs should provide us with open networks – and should not block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks. Just as your phone company should not decide who you call and what you say on that call, your ISP should not interfere with the content you view or post online.”
Interestingly, the first provision on the NCC’s Code of Practice, “to protect the rights and interest of internet service providers and consumers,” suggest the sponsors of the code do not want to interfere with the freedom of internet users but to ‘protect’ them.
The spread of fake news and terrorists’ propaganda using the open internet principle have raised concern about the power of the web. The growing threats of terrorism, inciting rhetoric, cyber criminality and fake news have therefore moved many governments across the world to place some level of curbs on internet service providers. Their efforts have received remarkable push-backs from businesses and rights organisations that believe it constitutes an infringement on freedom of communication.
Meanwhile, countries that have expressed support for net neutrality include Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, Chile, India, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, United Kingdom, European Union, and the United States of America. In the case of the United States, the government under President Barack Obama, made efforts to redesign its net neutrality rules but ended being slammed with a suit by the United States Telecom Association which described the new rules an “overreach”. The Donald Trump administration however repealed the net neutrality rules.
“The NCC is driving at protecting net neutrality,” a source close to matter told BusinessDay. To be sure, not many Nigerians are aware of why it is important to protect their internet rights or what they should do to limit exposure to activities that put them in harm’s way while on the web. But it will be interesting to see NCC and its stakeholders drive that discussion at the February meeting. Whatever the outcome is from that meeting will have implications for every form of business that have its lifeblood from the internet, fintechs inclusive.