Zero-rating in Africa, Reconsidered

January 27th, 2022 - 9:00 am to 10:30 am PT

Online event

Throughout the world, people access the Internet via various zero-rated offers. Over the years, policy debates about zero-rating have primarily focused on cases of zero-rating taking place across the Global South and involving US tech companies or organizations, from Facebook (Internet.org/Free Basics) to Wikipedia (Wikipedia Zero). Most famously, in 2015, digital rights activists in India led a spectacular year-long campaign that led to a regulatory ban on zero-rating. Across the world, however, zero-rating remains a practice rarely regulated and widely used in the industry.

This private workshop proposes to revisit the debate about zero-rating in light of the ongoing use of the practice in Africa. We propose to displace the debates away from a sole focus on US tech corporations and organizations. Instead, we want to interrogate the broader ecosystem of players, big and small, local, transnational, and foreign, that adopt zero-rating and ask: How important is zero-rating for the present and future of connectivity in Africa? What kinds of harms and benefits are associated with the practice? Can zero-rating empower local users and developers or, in some cases, even be a decolonial practice?

The goals of the workshop are

  1. To improve our understanding of zero-rating in Africa, including the landscape of actors involved and state of regulation.
  2. To get the pulse of the African digital rights community’s outlook vis-a-vis zero-rating regulation.
  3. To activate a dialogue between key stakeholders on the need for regulation, accountability, and multistakeholder engagement on the practice of zero-rating.
  4. To stimulate further research on the societal impact of zero-rating.

This is an invite-only, private workshop convened by DCSL fellow Sabelo Mhlambi and DCSL Research Director Toussaint Nothias.