Much Ado About Nothing? Zero Rating in the African Context

A fresh, public-interested assessment of the zero-rating of certain applications (apps) and platforms in the African mobile prepaid environment is overdue. This policy paper examines the issue of zero-rating within the contexts of the range of discounted and dynamically-priced African mobile network operator (MNO) products, and the priority public policy issues facing the continent in relation to the Internet. Affordable access to broadband networks is a necessary condition for the Internet to serve as a developmental lever in Africa, as in the rest of the Global South. The general contention of this paper is that African MNOs’ zero-rating of over-the-top (OTT) services, limited as this practice is at present, can usefully provide a gateway to the Internet for first-time and price-sensitive users. Additionally, when the practice is deployed by non-dominant MNOs, zero-rating can enhance competition.