The second session of the MISA Internet Governance Conference held in Harare recently concluded with startups and online businesses sharing their experiences.
The role of technical enablers in the form of Internet Providers and Mobile Operators would have been an interesting discussion, but unfortunately, only TelOne turned up. The discussion also brought onto the spotlight the legal frameworks dealing with and affecting the internet and businesses online.
In the session, the panelists were Limbikani Makani (Techzim), Natasha Musonza from Her Zimbabwe, Godknows Homwe from PO Box, Joseph Machiva the Telone Marketing Director and iZone hub’s Kudzai Mubaiwa.
Summarily the main challenges that panelists shared as affecting their businesses have a lot to do with cost access to the internet, net neutrality issues, copyright issues and monetizing the business model.
In terms of access to the internet, the costs are going down gradually but they are not yet comfortable for an online startup. We have talked about the costs of the internet in numerous discussions on this blog.
The absence of enabling financial instruments to promote startups especially in terms of taxes is another major hindrance. The current tax regime garnishes tax in terms of invoice value written out as opposed to actual revenue received. At the same
At the same time, Zimbabwe is suffering from a liquidity crisis amongst other economic challenges meaning that the intermittent cash flows can terribly affect startups. The government could implement exemptions of sorts for startup businesses to enable them to take off. It would make sense for example for exemptions on certain fiscal obligations for the first two years of operating or waivers on duty for import of devices and gadget required to build a small business.
Perhaps the most passionate discussion was on net neutrality in terms of how the internet technical and access enablers have taken a position to allow other services higher privileges than others with wanton disregard for trust perspective seeing as the major companies have a 60% share of the market.
The example given was how WhatsApp can afford to pay a mobile network operator (MNO) and get zero rating when the arrangement wrings out the smaller startups which are the ones that should actually receive support. At the end of the day, the MNOs are taking away from citizens the liberty of choice on what to consume from a cost persuasion and stifling the growth of new and local initiatives.
One other challenge shared by online businesses is the “pirating” of content from those that have put sweat into creating it by those who simply copy and make money out of it.
On issues of investing in copyright protection, the comment was that while it’s noble to invest in copyright protection, just because content is available, doesn’t mean that anyone should just take it. Participants implored the custodians to the IGF to also be considerate of the legal requirements of protecting content when coming up with the final IGF recommendations.
While the event had attracted a lot of journalists(it was a MISA event after all), it turned out to be more useful for the startup community. Hopefully, such a platform can also be availed for that sector as it will probably have a finer appreciation of the issues to do with the internet.
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