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What is local content?

So after the noise with the tengai.co.zw store and the ensuing usual talk about local content one question has been tickling the nether regions of my brain. Just what the heck is local content?

You see, if any debate is to evolve into something useful, people have to agree on the axioms otherwise the debate will be no useful than, say, the “Who is the best footballer of all time?” nonsense that I have to referee every weekend and just about as useful.

Some seem to think Raheem Sterling is on par with legends like Zidane, Ronaldo ( the real one), Fake/Cristiano Ronaldo, overrated Messi, coke snorting Maradona and old man Pele who played when TVs were yet to hit our shores and so no one really ever saw him play.

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Before long people like Rooney (seriously Man U supporters, you think this guy is a legend), Beckham, Kaka, Muller ( Der Bomber), Neymar and Suarez the vampire are thrown into the chaotic mix before everyone starts hurling insults at everyone.

Eventually, people start mocking each other’s limited knowledge of football before kissing and making up. Meanwhile, the question would be nowhere near resolved. The question still remains; Who was the greatest footballer of all time?

The same goes with local content and zero rating. People are always going to be intransigent when it comes to local content and whether it should be zero rated or not. I think however one of the problems is that we need to come up with a sensible definition of what local content is.

Back in the days when data caps were the norm most local Internet Service Providers(ISPs) used to offer “free” access to local sites. A lot of consumers were confused about this. Even though they were careful to visit only ISPs whose domain name ended with the TLD .co.zw, they still got some eye-popping bills and emails warning them that they had exceeded their local quotas.

It would seem, according to the ISPs, “local content” refers to content that is hosted on servers hosted in Zimbabwe. Consequently, just because a domain ends with a .co.zw address does not mean that it qualifies as local content. This would make sense.

Most ISPs peer freely through ZINX. This means that the cost of local bandwidth (which is not really zero) is significantly lower than that of international bandwidth which requires payment to upstream providers such as SEACOM.

I did a quick check to see which of Zimbabwe’s top websites are hosted in Zimbabwe and which are not. In doing so I considered websites that would be deemed “Zimbabwean” i.e. websites whose content was created primarily with a Zimbabwean audience in mind.

For example, although Facebook is one of the top websites visited by Zimbabweans, I seriously doubt Mr Zuckerberg had us in mind when he created the Social Networking site. In fact I doubt he can point out Zimbabwe on a map.

The sites that I considered can be said by some to be “local content”. A lot of them end with the TLD .co.zw but not all use this format with some preferring other TLDs although some of them use the word Zimbabwe or local vernacular domains somewhere in their FQDN. I ought to note this was not some scientific survey just my own two cents at work.

WebsiteHostCountry
techzim.co.zwwww.iomart.comScotland, UK
Google.co.zwGoogleUSA
herald.co.zwPeer 1 aka Serverbeach
www.serverbeach.com
Texas, USA
newzimbabwe.comGoddady
godaddy.com
USA/UK
sundaymail.co.zwRackspaceChicago, USA
Theindependent.co.zwHetzner Online AGGermany
thezimbabwean.coWebfusionUK
Thestandard.co.zwHetzner Online AGGermany
Financialgazette.co.zwDigital OceanUK Datacenter
Property.co.zwYo! AfricaZimbabwe
Zol.co.zwZolZimbabwe
classifieds.co.zwRackspaceUSA
econet.co.zwLiquid TelecomsZimbabwe?
telecel.co.zwYo!AfricaZimbabwe
netone.co.zwTeloneZimbabwe
africom.co.zwAfricomBulawayo, Zimbabwe
powertel.co.zwRackspaceUSA
aptics.co.zw??
telone.co.zwTeloneZimbabwe
yoafrica.comYo!AfricaZimbabwe
iwayafricaMweb South AfricaSouth Africa?
umax.co.zw?Zimbabwe
telco.co.zwTelcoZimbabwe
WebdevYo!AfricaZimbabwe

I used the ip-details.com and webhosting hero tools to try and determine who is hosted where. It is pretty accurate in my experience but not infallible. The list of sites show here was obtained from alexa.com top ranked websites and some of Zimbabwe’s ISPs and IAPs.

My bias probably played an important role here as well. If one of your favourite sites that you feel is popular is not on this list it’s probably because I think it’s not worth mentioning, I hate it, never heard of it and if you are the site owner you have never invited me to your house for a cup of coffee. This is Zimbabwe fellas you need to grease my palms just like you do the roadblock guys.

Just kidding, you can always mention other sites in the comments section. I just grew weary of typing.

This is not science people, but it is nevertheless interesting. It would seem most “local content” sites are not even local unless they are owned by ISPs/IAPs. It is also strange to see that despite all patriotic talk of datacenters some IAPs (e.g. Powertel) have chosen to host their site abroad even though they are part of the ZESA family which means perhaps they know something we don’t?

Considering all this I have to ask this question; would it be fair for a company like Econet to zero-rate every site? I do not think it is fair but then I strongly feel Econet has no business zero rating what is essentially a generic service in what is a clear attempt to give it an unfair advantage over the competition if they are not willing to zero rate all the competing sites.

Tengai.co.zw is hosted in the Amazon Cloud somewhere in Ireland, by the way. So no it is not local either. I deliberately mentioned it here so people would read the whole thing.


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22 thoughts on “What is local content?

  1. Garikai, depending on which nameservers you use, you will find that the following all have primary mirrors physically located in zimbabwe:

    – classifieds.co.zw
    – herald.co.zw
    – sundaymail.co.zw

    change to Liquids free DNS (5.11.11.11) or your ISP’s (if they recurse properly) and you’ll get access to the local mirrors.

    1. u mayb right bt techzim z totally right about their web host. What I knw is dns resolves names to ip’s and it automaticaly choose the closest mirror before landing u to the page. just like github repo , most of my downloads are from kenyan mirror (hosted by liquid telco)

  2. V stupid article. Just because someone hosts their Zimbabwean website on a foreign server such as Amazon Web Services, this doesn’t mean the content and business behind it isn’t local. If you host in the cloud, it doesn’t mean your business is from or operates in up in the clouds (its rather chilly up their!). Once again, another example of poor journalism and lack of tech knowledge.

      1. A typical cloud hosting offering can deliver the following features and benefits:

        Reliability; rather than being hosted on one single instance of a physical server the website is hosted on a virtual partition which draws its resources, such as disk space, from an extensive network of underlying physical servers. If one server goes offline, it dilutes the level of resource available to the cloud a little but will have no effect on the availability of the website whose virtual server will continue to pull resource from the remaining network of servers. Some cloud platforms could even survive an entire data centre going offline as the pooled cloud resource is drawn from multiple data centres in different locations to spread the risk.

        Physical Security; the underlying physical servers are still housed within data centers and so benefit from the security measures that those facilities implement to prevent people accessing or disrupting them on-site

        Scalability and Flexibility; resource is available in real time on demand and not limited to the physical constraints/capacity of one server. If a client’s site demands extra resource from its hosting platform due to a spike in visitor traffic or the implementation of new functionality, the resource is accessed seamlessly. Even when using a private cloud model the service can often be allowed to ‘burst’ to access resources from the public cloud for non-sensitive processing if there are surges in activity on the site.

        Utility style costing; the client only pays for what they actually use. The resource is available for spikes in demand but there is no wasted capacity remaining unused when demand is lower.Responsive load balancing; load balancing is software based and therefore can be instantly scalable to respond to changing demands

        1. We understand all that, but for clients to reach those servers, traffic have to originate from somewhere coming to your hosted server.

          You articulated well the benefits of cloud from someone who wants a cheap way of running a website etc.

          But from a user’s view, they dont care weather its the servers are in the cloud or under the sea, they just want to click and get a fast respond.

          The question which might not have been clear is, do we have cloud service providers based in Zim? The answer is no, because its a hot and become expensive to run.

          That is the reason you see more datacentre being built in Scotland and other cold Nordic countries.

          That means all the traffic from Zim will be going out to those countries when people try to reach websites hosted in the cloud.

          1. true, in our current economy state its very expensive to run data centers in a nation where load shedding z high. Yo africa do offer cloud services, bt lets clear this out”what is cloud?”

            Honestly Zimbabwe trashed a lot of jobs overseas. I blame gorvenment for this, thy must reduce business operating (fees) costs for the sake of the economy

  3. ZINX was not initiated to facilitate zero rating although it can be a by-product. Zinx was formed so that ISPs can interconnect at a central point in Zim thereby increasing user experience and reducing cost for ISPs.

    If you are on PowerTel and want to access a website hosted on Econet, the last time l checked traffic was going first to Botswana, UK, in UK it get switched at Lynx into the Liquid Tel core then back to Zim.

    This is an area l will fully support our energetic Minister and Potraz if he forces every ISP to connect at Zinx and through ultimatums everywhere, but l dont see it happening because there is no direct cash for Potraz to benefit from. Talk of security again from our Minister, this will give his ministry and boys from president’s office an easy access to data which comes and goes out of Zim.

    Talking of zero rating, l think all Econet needs to do is to ask anyone with a locally hosted website to come forward and that will put a lot of noise out, including our beloved Techzim!

    1. Telcos will not zero rate content unless it’s mutually beneficial to do so. Econet will sacrifice data costs only if they can make up that loss somewhere else. Perhaps through discount vouchers on local e-retailers for Econet subsribers (e.g. MTN and Jumia); free advertising space on the zero rated website ect….

      1. I was just being sacarstic, Econet can play that card if they want the noise to go away knowing fully well that a lot of these so called Zim websites are hosted outside Zim.

        If people choose to relocate their websites to enjoy zero rating then that will be good and l will instantly support any move by gvt to keep the terms and conditions same.

        1. I think it’s a good idea though, it might work especially if its POTRAZ funded. Fails if imposed though

  4. You have failed to take into account mirroring. A number of the sites on the list use geolocated DNS to give you a different server based on which DNS server is making the request, if it is a local zimbabwean DNS query you will get the Zim server, if it is an international DNS query you will get the international server. So using something like ip-details.com will always give you the international server as it is an international request. So most of what you have said above is incorrect for the average user on an average Zimbabweran ISP with default DNS settings.

  5. this is a silly article…. thought it was going to pit Generations against Studio 263 & Days of our Lives, Premier Soccer League against English & Spanish Football leagues, ZBC vs DSTV, Herald against The Sunday Times SA….something along those lines.
    Anyway me also going off topic the author seems to have forgotten to do a price comparison between Local hosting and international servers. Just cause its hosted outside doesn’t mean its not Zimbabwean.

    1. “…Just cause its hosted outside doesn’t mean its not Zimbabwean…”

      There is no dispute about that, but websites hosted outside cannot be zero rated because traffic will be moving from Zim to where ever the servers are hosted. That means the carrier or ISP have to foot the bill for that international traffic somehow.

      1. You’re misinformed. The telco can freely zero rate any content that uses their data to access the Internet.

        1. What is internet? You can only control whats in your domain. Once it leaves you network into another ISP domain, its up to that ISP to drop or allow your traffic depending on what bandwidth deals you have in place.

          Lets say Econet has zero rate everyone, and their connection to seacom fibre is 10G in and out. Now because of demand, the traffic hits 20G because people are enjoying zero rated websites.

          Do you think Econet is going to install another 10G link to accomodate extra traffic or drop it?

  6. we all just need to admit that local hosting is whack, tell me of a data-center that overheated less than twice this year. the ISPs that host locally have ridiculous downtimes and unreliable traffic. We all host outside because thats where hosting actually happens and we shun the ISPs (as the only pple with datacenters) because they are inefficient and horribly expensive. Whats the point of a zero-rated unreachable site that you pay an arm and a leg for?

  7. The way Techzim likes to talk about Tengai.co.zw is like they have shares in it. We have many Zim websites that you could be mentioning than Tengai. Wea re tired of it talking about a website which is not even active.

    1. Seriously that is your take from the story? I mentioned over 30 websites in the story and you still found something to complain about! If you read the article I clearly state why I did not mention all the websites: there are two many to mention.
      Tengai is for better or for worse now the face of neutrality in much the same way that Oprah is the face of talk shows, Obama is the face of America and Boko Haram is the hot raging terrorist group dominating Africa.

      You do not get to be tired of things like Ebola. Your loathing does not somehow make them disappear. They just are and these other websites that you mention just do not make it to the list this time.

      1. Garikai, all this talk of net-neutrality is a luxury we cannot afford to have.

        We are not there yet, the economy is struggling to get investment and no many companies are investing enough to make a change.

        What visible difference has classifieds.co.zw made to our lives since its inception? It has been on the horizon for long.

        Most startups fizzle out in less than a year after its founders realise that its not easy to be a millionaire overnight or other valid reasons.

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