Rethink data policies to increase internet access, ICT players tell State

Opera said amid the need for entities to uphold data privacy, there is also a need to balance regulatory intent with its impact on public access to digital resources. [iStockphoto]

Players in the ICT sector have urged the government to review its regulatory policies to support affordable internet access.

Opera, the firm that operates the Opera Mini browser, said in its latest blog that it had to stop free data campaigns across Kenya due to the new local regulations.

It seems the company is referring to the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) decision to stop advertising on Speed Dials (a visual version of bookmarks) within browsers, which was announced earlier this year.

Opera says it has been continuously investing in the Kenyan market through its free data campaigns. However, things seem to be changing due to the new regulations impacting access to digital advertising.

Previously, campaigns run by Opera for over four years offered up to 1.5GB of free data monthly, a move the firm said significantly enhanced digital inclusion across various demographics.

The BCLB decision means over 13 million Kenyans will no longer benefit from the daily free 50MB of data. The users who benefited from them now face barriers to accessing the web.

Before the regulatory changes, Opera shared plans for an extensive investment for the upcoming year, meeting or exceeding the previous year’s amount spent on Free Data campaigns in Kenya.

However, the BCLB’s decision has placed these plans on indefinite hold, creating uncertainty about the future of these campaigns.

According to StatCounter, Opera has over 13 million users in Kenya, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the mobile market share in February 2024, splitting the market with Google’s Chrome.

Opera said in 2023 alone, it provided over four million GB of data for free, valued at Sh1.6 billion, as part of its campaign to enhance digital inclusion in the country.

These investments are put on hold due to the BCLB decision, which affects millions of Kenyans daily.

The stopping of free data highlights the complexities of balancing policies in an increasingly digital world with their impact on public access to digital resources.

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