“Regulators Should Participate in the Development of Internet Technology”

Dr. Nii Quaynor
Dr. Nii Quaynor

Mr. Quaynor, why is so much happening right now in the African Internet community?

Quaynor: This may be an indication of a maturing technical community in Africa. This can be seen by the growth in attendance at AfNOG events and the diversity of people attending portions of the event. We also note new and wider interests in capacity development, the infrastructure of information and communication technology in Africa, and the well-received proposals of public private partnerships like the “interconnecting Africa EU” initiative. Expertise to manage the networks, in general, is growing, and confidence in African networks is increasing. I am pleased to note this is a good sign for Africa, since the continent is the newest market for investment in the Internet industry.

According to your estimation, what percentage of people on the African continent has access to the Internet?

Quaynor: User penetration of the Internet is difficult to estimate to any significant degree of confidence. However, it’s commonly believed that average user penetration in Africa is about a paltry 3 percent, which shows a glaring market opportunity. The continent achieved full Internet connectivity with all capital cities in 2000. The number of users for many countries in Africa is growing at rates in excess of 1,000 percent a year, which imposes a huge demand on competent technical expertise to manage the networks.

There are often complaints that Internet access in Africa is still too expensive. What do the costs consist of and how high are they in terms of average income – compared with East Asian countries?

Quaynor: The principal cost components are bandwidth costs, scarce technical human resources, and equipment. A typical individual subscriber service might cost 20 US Dollars per month as compared to a one US Dollar per day average income. But, there is disposable income fueling the market, given that the early adopters are from higher income brackets and a large number of users employ universal access solutions such as cyber cafes, public Internet access terminals, or the equivalent.

What role does AfNOG play among other African Internet initiatives?

Quaynor: AfNOG is the umbrella technical capacity-building forum for Internet resource organizations to meet and thus cooperates with all the initiatives. Our organization is often the initiator and incubator for these organizations. As a result, AfNOG became the forum for developing consensus on the establishment of the African Region Internet Registry (AfriNIC). It took about a decade to establish AfriNIC and to convince the global community of Africa’s readiness. As a regional Internet registry, AfriNIC shares its operator community with AfNOG. The success of AfriNIC since its inception 18 months ago illustrates the technical, policy, and business readiness of the African Internet community. AfNOG and AfriNIC have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate and cohost their annual meetings.

The Africa Top Level Domains Organization (AfTLD) shares a similar community of operators with AfNOG. In the past, the association of African Internet Service Provider Associations (AfrISPA) has used AfNOG technical notes to teach Internet exchange points to its community. Right now, AfNOG is beginning to court the African ICANN lobby group, the African Regional At-Large Organization (AFRALO) and is cooperating with the African Internet society, ISOC INET. This networking is easier because AfrISPA and ISOC INET hold their annual meetings during the AfNOG event. Furthermore, an African research and academic networks community (AfREN) was activated during the last AfNOG meeting in Nairobi. AfriNIC, AfNOG, and the African Association of Universities agreed to cooperate to strengthen next generation of campus networks in Africa.

Will AfNOG also cooperate with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an initiative promoted by the Bill Gates foundation?

Quaynor: AfriNIC and AfNOG have all been previously endorsed and supported by the eAfrica Commission of NEPAD. I myself have been a commissioner for Internet and Software of the eAfrica Commission. Support from the Bill Gates foundation would be very relevant given the enormous need.

Does AfNOG share some objectives with national initiatives like the Kenya Education and research network (KENET)?

Quaynor: The KENET initiative hosted this year’s annual AfNOG meeting in Nairobi. AfNOG shares many common objectives with national organizations like KENET. For example, AfNOG supports the development of the above-mentioned educational community, AfREN, and KENET was a founding member of its launch. AfNOG and AfriNIC have agreed to support the development of other similar research and educational networks.

What are the specifically African interests that are insufficiently represented in international Internet committees like ICANN?

Quaynor: African interests in ICANN are not much different from other regions except that Africa has peculiar human capacity, infrastructure, and financial constraints. Thus, although Africa participates in several parts of ICANN, African businesses have not been successful in becoming contractors of ICANN.

What can AfNOG do to gain more awareness for these interests?

Quaynor: AfNOG will continue to strengthen the technical capacity of Internet professionals on the continent and view this work as a critical path to achieve these gains. In addition, AfNOG is beginning to build consensus on operating the sponsored top-level domain registry for names ending with “Africa.”

What is the situation in Africa with regard to Internet censorship?

Quaynor: Censorship has not become a significant issue as yet and I hope it remains so. Effective censorship would require highly specialized technical expertise which is lacking for now in Africa. This effort would be better spent in developing communication capacity.

At the most recent AfNOG meeting, Kenya’s permanent secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communication, Bitange Ndemo, spoke in favor of a more liberal approach to the Internet. Can you see a similar attitude in other African governments?

Quaynor: This approach is inevitable, and all African governments will adopt a more liberal approach to the Internet over time. The yoke of incumbency is the biggest obstacle to liberalization because the majority of regulators are not yet convergent. It often takes a long time to translate these policy positions into reality – and that affects the rate of Internet development in Africa. Nonetheless, we are confident that the AfNOG environment is becoming attractive to policy makers. Their participation and the participation of regulators would help accelerate the liberalization of policy positions in favor of the Internet. Many laws and regulations don’t adequately address the needs of the Internet, but convergence could elude several of them. If regulators participate more in Internet development, they could better appreciate how much must be developed from the bottom up.