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AIS'17/AFRINIC-26 Holds First Workshop on Internet Measurements Initiatives in Africa

The Internet Measurements initiatives in Africa Workshop will be held during the AIS'17/AFRINIC-26 Meeting currently underway in Nairobi, Kenya. Amreesh Phokeer, AFRINIC's Research & Innovation Manager, writes about Internet measurements and why they are important. 

Internet measurements is a well known research area in networking, but it is still at an early stage in many developing regions including Africa. Typically, Internet measurements provide information on coverage of networks (e.g. WiFi and cellular networks), performance (e.g. Internet throughput and latency) and usage. Importantly, Internet development campaigners, as well as policy makers in developing regions (eg RIA, IDRC, the AFRINIC community), have recognised the crucial role that Internet measurement data can play in facilitating evidence-based policy-making and advocacy. Such information is helpful in guiding policy formulation, as well as for policy makers and regulators to monitor the effect of regulatory and policy interventions and market developments. Appropriate acquisition of such Internet data requires a variety of research methods, including wide distribution of Internet probes for technical measurements located in diverse locations and networks, as well as region-specific techniques and technologies, demand-side surveys on internet access and use and price benchmarking. 

The Ecosystem 

From a policy perspective, conceptions of Internet and broadband go beyond the purely technological and infrastructural notions. Rather, broadband is viewed as an ecosystem, which includes networks, the services that the networks carried, the applications delivered and, critically, the users. Each of these components has been transformed by technological, business and market developments. The more functional definitions that have emerged in the last few years not only allow for more specific points of policy and regulation along the broadband value chain, but, with the critical inclusion of users – both as consumers and producers – also compel a range of demand-side interventions to ensure optimal exploitation of broadband potential.

Consumer Centered 

With such networks, services and content regarded as a necessary condition for the development of knowledge economies. The ecosystemic approach to Internet measurements places users – citizens and consumers – at the centre of the system. Their access to, and the affordability of, the available networks, services, applications and content determines the degree of their inclusion in the ecosystem; or their exclusion from it. The factors that link these elements and affect access and affordability are those of availability, pricing and broadband performance. These, in turn, are an outcome of the market structure and the effectiveness of the regulation, which are themselves determined by the policy and legal framework.

Many Stakeholders 

Furthermore, the Internet ecosystem comprises many stakeholders, including government regulators, policy makers, service providers, as well as Internet users and research communities. The nature of the relationships and processes between and within them, determines the conduciveness to the investment that is required to drive the growth of the sector. The levels of efficiency and innovation that enable the evolution of the ecosystem depend on the availability of the skills and competencies of the people and institutions at each node within the ecosystem. Therefore, development and deployment of Internet measurement infrastructure and methods requires cooperation among these different Internet players.

Collaboration Opportunities 

However, until recently, there has been little such coordination among Africa’s Internet measurement researchers and few interactions with the broader international Internet measurements research community. Consequently, development of Internet measurement research in Africa has remained one of the lowest globally. That said, the opportunities for collaboration are plentiful, including collaborative development of measurement infrastructure between the research community and service providers, as well as the sharing of research methods, analysis tools and data. The upcoming Internet Measurements Workshop at AIS'17/AFRINIC-26 is intended to build and foster an African community around Internet measurements research, with the opportunity for collaboration with the global research community.

Workshop

The workshop will include invited talks from Internet researchers, network operators and , the civil society and ICT policy specialists. It will also be a good platform to compare existing Internet measurement platforms, research methods and their output such as the RIPE Atlas framework, M-Lab, the SpeedChecker, RIA surveys on ICT access and use, and broadband retail price benchmarking. Some of the questions that will be discussed during the workshop are:

  • What is the status of internet measurement research in Africa?
  • What are the technical tools and research methods available for measuring internet development in Africa?
  • How can different technical tools and research methods be combined to develop policy relevant research that can positively impact on internet infrastructure and market development?
  • How can, ultimately, internet users benefit from it?
  • How can Internet censorship be measured?

More details on the agenda can be found here and the workshop is open to all those present on-site in Nairobi. 

The workshop is co-organised by AFRINIC and Research ICT Africa

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