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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Freedom House says Nigeria is partly free Internet Society

The United States-based Freedom House has described Nigeria as partly a free society when it comes to Internet Freedom.

This was indicated in its latest report titled “Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media,” made available to ITRealms Online covering the period 2009 through 2011 when the online penetration of Nigeria has soared unprecedentedly with the mobile internet access now available to the greater number of mobile subscriptions in the country.

According to the report, endorsed by the executive director of Freedom House, Mr. David J. Kramer, within this period, Nigeria has not molested citizen journalists otherwise call bloggers or people who are just online users and enthusiasts with arrest or threat.

Although Freedom House noted that Nigeria partly have press freedom, there has not been substantial political censorship on internet usage in the country.

In addition, Freedom House commended Nigerian authorities for not blocking any Web 2.0 applications in the last over two years, which includes users of web-blogs, social media networks like Twitter, Facebook to name a few.

They pointed out that in 1999, Nigeria returned to civilian governance after almost 30 years of military rule, just as the internet was first introduced in the early 1990s, and usage had grown more rapidly following an internet workshop organized by the Yaba College of Technology in 1995.

Freedom House said that press freedom and the space for free expression have since increased, the legal and political environment for traditional media has remained harsh with a number of journalists killed in recent years.

Yet, “Online media have been comparatively free from such restrictions to date, though two bloggers were detained for questioning in late 2008,” the report stated.

Equally, the report showed that the Nigerian authorities do not carry out any filtering of content, and while access to information technology is still limited for many Nigerians, the number of internet users nearly quadrupled between 2008 and 2010.

“Several recent legislative initiatives have raised concerns that the relative freedom and privacy enjoyed by online journalists and writers may come under threat in the near future,” part of the report read.

They said that Internet access expanded as cybercafes sprang up in major cities across Nigeria in 1999, though it was still expensive and connections were very slow.

“The introduction of internet access via mobile-phone service in 2004 spurred further increases in internet use,” Freedom House said.

Under this period, about 13 obstacles to access were highlighted, likely limits to content were 10 and violations of user rights got 12 scores, while the Internet Freedom Status ranked Nigeria partly free.

Though the report stated that Internet access in Nigeria has grown exponentially in recent years, particularly after the introduction of mobile-phone data services and Fixed Wireless
Access (FWA) services, there were about 100,000 users in 1999, but the figure grew to 11 million in 2008, and reached almost 44 million in 2010.

“This large jump in access is due to an increase in mobile-phone usage and data services over this period, private sector and government investment in technology, and increased competition between FWA providers,” the report showed.

Freedom House emphasised that the penetration rate is only 30 percent of the Nigerian population, and access is greater in urban areas than in rural regions, whereas cost is a key barrier to access for many Nigerians, the price for internet use ranges from US$1 per hour in cybercafes to an average of US$7 per megabyte of data on Global System for Mobile (GSM) networks.

Further, the report showed that FWA service costs an average of US$80 per month, which entails in comparison that the new minimum wage announced by the government in July 2010 which is US$120 per month, may still not be enough for citizens to offset family essentials and accommodate access t the Internet.

Literacy, however, Freedom House said, remained an obstacle as well, as 28 per cent of the population is illiterate, particularly in English, the main language used by Nigerian online news outlets and blogs.

A May 2009 survey of internet users, was quoted as showing that most Nigerians access the internet from cybercafes or their workplaces, while only 17 per cent do so from home.

Among these users, the report said, a large percentage is well educated, with 41 per cent holding secondary school degrees and 32 percent holding bachelor’s degrees.

In recent years, they said, frequent power cuts have become an impediment to internet access, with many users reportedly using private generators to stay online during outages.

“A number of cybercafes have closed due to difficulties paying for such expensive backup power generation in addition to internet service. The loss of cybercafes has been somewhat offset by the rise of mobile internet usage and affordable packages offered by FWA service providers,” part of the report read.

Freedom House report went on to suggest that although many internet service providers in Nigeria use the word “broadband” in their promotional materials, in practice there is limited broadband service available in Nigeria, with some estimated to be placing the number of broadband subscribers as of December 2009 at only 67,800.

In a related development, the Washington, DC-based Freedom House said that globally, cyber-attacks, politically motivated censorship, and government control over internet infrastructure are amongthe diverse and growing threats to internet freedom.

Mr. Kramer said, these encroachments on internet freedom come at a time of explosive growthin the number of internet users worldwide, which has doubled over the past five years.

“Governments are responding to the increased influence of the new medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users.“These detailed findings clearly show that internet freedom cannot be taken for granted,” he warned, stressing that nondemocratic regimes are devoting more attention and resources to censorship and other forms of interference with online expression.The Freedom on the Net 2011 identified key trends in internet freedom in 37 countries, follows a pilot edition that was released in 2009; evaluating each country based on barriers to access, limitations on content, and violations of users’ rights.

Remmy Nweke
ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D

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