Week in Review: November 27, 2017

by Dan Bateyko

Internet Society releases "Promoting the African Internet Economy" report

The Internet Society, a U.S. non-profit for Internet policy, released a report last Wednesday highlighting opportunities and hurdles for the African Internet economy, as well as providing recommendations for improving Internet access.

In Internet Society’s blog, Dawit Bekele, Regional Bureau Director for Africa, writes optimistically that “the Internet will reach the majority of Africans very soon [sic] empowering them as they have never been in the past,” but voices concern over Internet fragmentation and cybercrime that might affect people’s trust on the Internet. The report provides recommendations to improve access and content infrastructure, outlining steps to liberalize the sector through the removal of tariffs on network equipment and through spectrum policies that allow companies to use the spectrum efficiently and affordably.

On the content side, The Internet Society points to the need for affordable and reliable power sources and access to trained personnel. To reduce costs and improve speeds, the report also calls for improved local content infrastructure, such as data centers and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), as “upwards of 90% of traffic for African countries is international traffic rather than locally sourced.” Yinka Adegoke, writing for Quartz Africa, summarizes the problem:

“It’s one thing for a local blogger to create original content that people want to see, but it’s quite another for the content to get served up to someone in the same country in a rapid and seamless fashion. That often doesn’t happen because when information travels, it’s routed halfway across the world through internet exchanges in Europe or North America before being delivered to back home to readers. There are some local service providers in Nairobi, like Kooba and Angani, but it’s still early days for those hoping to do it at meaningful scale.”

The report takes a wide-lens approach, touching on how business-to-business services, business-to-commerce apps, Internet platforms for mobile payments, as well as content policies such as Internet shutdowns affect the Internet Economy in Africa. To read more, visit https://www.internetsociety.org/resources/doc/2017/africa-internet-economy/

Pakistan blocks social media and TV channels

On November 25, Pakistan reportedly blocked access to social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter as part of a media blackout following violent protests last week. According to an AP wire story, the Pakistani regulatory body also took a number of TV broadcasts off the air, in what is seen as a response to increased turnout of people protesting a purported blasphemous omission of a reference to the Prophet Muhammad in a parliamentary bill.

Twitter confirmed the block on its @Policy handle, stating that “We are aware of reports that the Pakistani government has taken action to block Twitter service, as well as other social media services, and that users are having difficulty using Twitter in Pakistan. We are monitoring the situation and hope service will be fully restored soon.”

In response, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) solicited for Pakistani users to run net tests on the blocked websites to confirm their blocked status.

In a research study from October, OONI and Bytes for All Pakistan confirmed 210 blocked URLs through blockpages and DNS tampering. NetBlocks in partnership with Digital Rights Foundation has also released a report on the nationwide ban on social media.

Pakistan is listed as “Not Free” in Freedom House’s “Freedom on the Net” 2017 report, declining in this year’s ranking due in part to reports of regional Internet shutdowns and a death sentence for an Internet user committing blasphemy on Facebook.

To see an overview of Pakistan’s Internet usage, visit the Internet Monitor Dashboard here.

The Equitable Internet Initiative brings Wifi to Detroit’s underserved communities

A new short documentary for Vice's “Dear Future” series features the Equitable Internet Initiative, a grassroots program in Detroit that brings Internet infrastructure to underserved neighborhoods and offers “education and training to people interested in joining the push to close the digital divide."

Addressing this digital divide (a reported 40% of Detroit residents do not have Internet access), the Detroit Community Technology Project program "teaches Detroit residents how to build autonomous, affordable, and high speed Wifi networks.” In the documentary, Diana Nucera, the director of the nonprofit, explains that in Detroit "because of high foreclosure rates, because of bad credit, a lot of telecom companies don't offer good service within these areas or won't even turn on their fibers." Nucera goes on to say that "the work we've been doing is not just about access, it's about building a healthy digital ecosystem." Speaking to Motherboard, Gabrielle Knox, a digital steward with the program, says that "For me, this is a beautiful thing to be a part of, because the faces that these people see are the same people who installed it, the same people who are protecting their privacy, the same people who will come back and be like 'hey you have a problem, how do we fix that?'"

A separate Motherboard article lists a number of such projects across the U.S., including rural communities using wireless internet antennas and organizations using previously unused television spectrum to enable Internet access.