Many governments have been struggling to regulate the internet in a quest to create a level playing field with regards to the content being shared and how the Internet Services Providers (ISPs) conduct themselves for the good of the people.
However, no government has managed to come up with the best regulations mechanism to curb the many problems that are associated with Internet usage. Here in Zimbabwe, internet regulations are too open for interpretation.
The concept of internet freedom seems to be a fleeting concept in Zimbabwe as there aren’t well defined statutes to govern internet usage in the country. The regulations don’t clean up the internet, or call to task service providers, they just hurt the innocent users.
With the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) now requiring online content creators to pay upwards of $6000 a year for webcasting, after acquiring a broadcasting license for $2500, you never know what could come next as internet usage seems more of a privilege granted by the government to the people than a right for every citizen.
The United States enacted and the repealed Net Neutrality, China is well known for its internet censorship, the UK proposed some robust internet regulations that would see the social media companies paying a tax to help clean up the internet. But all these measures haven’t created a cleaner and better internet space.
Online bullying and abuse, fake news, encrypted mobile application furthering harmful agendas are all but part of some problems with the internet use worldwide. But none of the regulations attempted have come close to tackling those problems without hurting the innocent internet users.
With this, who is to stop any other regulatory authority in Zimbabwe from using an unseemly act to infringe on people’s rights to use the internet freely.
Last year Martha O’Donovan, an American Citizen, was arrested for insulting the president in a tweet she had posted online. She was later set free in January after state prosecutors failed to prepare their case. But the charges were preposterous.
While making an argument at High Court during the BAZ vs Dr Dish saga, attorney Tawanda Nyambirai once argued that the challenges Kwese TV were facing in acquiring an operating licence made no sense as the same content was available online via popular social media networks like Facebook and YouTube. But now that BAZ is asking for content creators to pay license fees, that argument, then a powerful one against the regulators refusal to grant Kwese TV a lisence no longer holds.
But the problem will always remain as the people will still be able to access unlicensed foreign content over the internet while being starved of local content because local content creators aren’t able to pay the hefty fees that BAZ is demanding from them.
As it stands, without clarification on internet regulation, cyber laws and rights awarded to the people of Zimbabwe, any government agency may, inadvertently or otherwise, thwart internet usage in the name of regulating something else.