In Sudan, where the Internet plays an important role in political and economic transformation, the net neutrality legislation still has a long way to go.
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (PSI or ISP) should consider for equitable data traffic, which does not discriminate or apply differentiated rates based on the type of user, content and applications
In general terms, it is about guaranteeing free and fair access to the internet through laws and policies that mitigate tensions between the private and public sectors.
While there is no unified definition of the term, the “majority of the proposals agree that the owners of the networks that make up and provide internet access should not control how consumers use the network within the law, and should not to be able to discriminate the access of the content provider to that network ”, according to an article by the academic Angele A. Gilroy.
In 2003, law professor Tim Wu coined the term for the first time in his document, “Net Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination,” in which he describes various controversies between the private sector and public interest groups.
As internet access becomes more popular, for more Sudanese citizens the lack of regulations on net neutrality means that transgressions in Sudan occur easily and frequently.
Violations of network neutrality occur in many ways, for example, “protocol discrimination” occurs when telecommunications companies and internet service providers restrict or block access to some sites or services by discriminating against certain network protocols. communication, or when providers block access to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications such as WhatsApp, Skype and Viber.
In other cases, providers favor some websites or applications by offering zero rates that allow users access without discounting their data or applying extra charges. This discriminatory price trend gives some companies an unfair advantage over their competitors.
In Sudan, the main actors in the telecommunications market have not applied tariffs, which demonstrates a clear violation of the basic principles of net neutrality established by experts and which have since been accepted as common standards.
MTN Sudan, a subsidiary of the MTN group in South Africa, provides its users with access to Facebook Zero. This service, which is part of a project launched by Facebook in collaboration with mobile network providers, offers a free abbreviated text-only version of Facebook.
Another example was the Wikipedia Zero project supplied by the telecommunications company Sudani, as part of the Wikipedia-zero program. This program offered free access to the online encyclopedia through mobile phones, was criticized by defenders for violating the net neutrality and was suspended in 2018.
Zain Sudan, a subsidiary of the Kuwaiti group Zain, has granted its users access to the free Facebook Free Basics program, an application that gives users access to various web services, the most recognized and prominent being Facebook. In 2017, a Global Voices investigation revealed that Free Basics violated the net neutrality and also granted Facebook access to unique data streams about user habits and interests in developing countries.
However, Zain Sudan has recently promoted another offer called Flex that offers its users free access to Facebook and its messaging application, Messenger.
Sudan does not yet have a law regulating net neutrality. However, some legal provisions in the Telecommunications and Postal Regulation Act of 2018 address and address the problem indirectly.
Article 25 of the law prohibits any non-competitive activity by licensed companies. In addition, in what could be interpreted as a stance against the zero rate, article 38 of the law penalizes the application of prices that discriminate between users and also make discounts that limit and restrict competition.
Another law that partially addresses the issue of net neutrality is the Monopoly Prevention and Competitiveness Organization Act of 2009. Chapter two of this law prohibits granting any entity the privilege of distributing services or products based on the segmentation of the market according to the geographical area, for a specific period or to favor certain clients over others.
In a country where the Internet drove a revolution and currently drives the emergence of new technology companies, it is crucial to level the field of action through the net neutrality legislation. This will help regulate economic competitors and also protect the rights of users to freely and fairly access all services and applications.
Sudan could learn from countries such as Canada, India and the Netherlands that have already established measures and laws to regulate telecommunications practices and service providers with respect to net neutrality.
Likewise, Sudan must fight for cultural change within society and in the private sector to raise awareness and create incentives that defend the neutrality of the network.