News Column

Should broadband Internet service be treated as a basic utility?

May 14, 2014

TOM MAKAU -1



Is Internet connection a public utility? A man dug up his neighbour's lawn to pass a fibre cable to his house and when the neighbour sued him for damaging his well-manicured lawn, the defendant said that Internet was a utility service and therefore he had right of way.

The courts however thought otherwise and asked the defendant to pay for the damage.

Some ISPs in Kenya have faced difficulties when laying fibre cables to building as landlords demand monthly fees for hosting the ISPs lines.

ISPs however, argue that companies like the Kenya Power or the water distributors do not ask for such payment to connect tenants. The ISPs want the landlords to treat their Internet cables as utility cables and not charge for their routing.

A public utility can be defined as "a business that furnishes an everyday necessity to the public at large."

Electricity and water are all considered public utilities. In strictly legal terms, there is also a regulatory component in the public utility definition, but I am concerned with the "everyday necessity".

In a utility service like electricity, I want to flip a switch and expect electricity and consume it in quantities that will satisfy my need but at the same time leave enough available to satisfy other people's (the public) needs too.

The above question depends on many factors. The first is geography. In as much as Africa has made great strides in Internet penetration, we are still far compared to our European or Japanese counterparts when it comes to not just availability of the Internet but also its use.

Statistics show that Africa contributes just about two per cent of total Internet traffic and less than 0.1 per cent of the content.

Africa is still fighting hunger and disease and lack of clean water. To classify the Internet as a utility might seem insensitive and counter productive. Or is it?

In the developed world, penetration in some countries is close to 100 per cent (with Norway at 97 per cent and Monaco at 100.6 per cent ) compared to Africa's Highest penetration rate of 51 per cent in Morocco and lowest in South Sudan at 0 per cent.

The reasons for declaring it as a utility are different for developed and developing countries.

Whereas the latter's population is already hooked to the Internet and use it for their daily lives, in developing countries it's still a luxury and not many can afford it.


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Source: Business Daily (Kenya)


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