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Airtel, a mobile Operator in Kenya has launched the Airtel UnlimiNet, a mobile data plan a zero rated plan that enables subscribers to download and upload online content without incurring data usage charges or having their usage counted against data usage limits.  This means that subscribers can keep browsing (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and Gmail) even when they are out of internet bundles.  This is enabled by exclusive agreement between the mobile operator and major content providers allowing favorable access to subscribers.

Zero rated content allows users who cannot afford mobile internet subscriptions or fixed broadband to gain access to parts of the internet.  Zero-rating reduces the cost of access information and may encourage investment in infrastructure by expanding Internet adoption.  Affordable access to the internet is crucial to developing countries who seek improve citizen welfare and become knowledge-based economies.  

It has been argued that by discriminating mobile operators own or their partners’ content, zero-rating places locally produced and locally relevant online content at a disadvantage.  In addition by prioritizing access to selected content, zero-rated programs do not offer full access to the open Internet and have therefore been viewed as an infringement on network neutrality.  Regulators in several countries including Netherlands, Slovenia and Chile have moved to prohibit zero-rating.  Though the benefits of zero rating are evident there is a need for regulatory authorities to monitor mobile operators’ business practices.

Disclaimer: Views expressed on this article (except those reference or quoted) are the author’s own

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