The invention and application of the internet have brought a lot of transformation in human and societal existence. Its relevance looms large in all spheres of human life, including communication, education, transportation, governance, commerce, sexuality, and leisure, among others. However, many Africans have been restricted from maximising the benefits associated with the internet due to a much lower internet penetration rate in the continent relative to the rest of the world. To reverse the trend of glaring inequality in the penetration of, and access to, the internet in some marginalised regions of the world such as Africa, the Number Resource Society (also known as NRS) was founded as global non-profit organisation in April 2021, by a team of renowned academics and internet experts. The Casablanca-based organisation has since its establishment undertaken some bold initiatives to promoting internet access, bridging the digital divide in Africa and beyond, and ensuring the integrity of the internet in Africa.
Inequality in internet penetration and access
Within the last six decades (or thereabouts) of its invention, the internet has not only substantially reduced the global community into a “village” but also has grown to become almost indispensable to human existence. As a result, the rate of internet usage has continued to swell across the globe. The July 2022 Global Statshot Report shows that internet users have increased by 3.7% over the past 12 months, reaching 5.03 billion in 2022. According to the report, the annual growth of 178 million new users has pushed the global internet penetration up to 63.1%.
In Africa, however, internet access is limited by a lower penetration rate vis-à-vis other parts of the world. Using measurable indices such as the overall number of Internet Service Providers (ISP) subscriptions, number of network hosts, Internet Exchange Points traffic, and total available bandwidth, among others, Africa is clearly far behind the digital divide. Despite having the largest potential for progress, only 22% of Africa’s population has access to the internet. This represents the lowest rate of internet connections across the world as Europe, North America and Asia have internet penetration rates of 92%, 90.3% and 67.4% respectively. While a paltry 0.4% of the African population has a fixed broadband subscription, the majority of internet users in the continent access the internet through mobile broadband. Notwithstanding, the potential of Africa for increased internet penetration is not in doubt as the majority of web traffic in leading digital markets in the continent originates from mobile devices.
The key stress areas of the Number Resource Society
Ensuring better governance of the internet for more people to have access to this universal resource is at the heart of the NRS evolution and engagements. Its central goal is to create a society that promotes fair, transparent and easy internet access for everyone. The Society boasts of 2,080 individual members and over 800 network members spread across 45 countries in the world. With an active presence in over 30 countries in Africa and beyond, including Japan, Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, and Zambia, the three-pronged goals of the Number Resource Society comprise consolidation of the freedom to run networks, protecting network infrastructure and customer data, and protecting the asset value of internet protocol (IP) registration. The organisation is also committed to the promotion of access to the internet through the democratisation of internet governance. Within two years of its founding, the NRS has shown tremendous potentials and capacity to redress the prevalence of inequity in internet governance, disequilibrium in the allocation and registration of internet number resources, especially the IP address, and snail-pace growth of the overall access to the internet in Africa. Beyond building and expanding the capacity of Africa’s and other marginalised internet end-users to freely participate in the shaping of internet governance, the Society has also expanded the spaces for citizens to critically engage in policymaking and governance processes.
Number Resource Society’s contributions to internet governance
The NRS has embarked on several initiatives to promote better governance of, and access to, the internet. These interventions will be discussed under the following subheadings: partnership with relevant stakeholders; internet governance training for end-users; and preserving the integrity and stability of the internet.
Partnership with relevant stakeholders
The NRS serves as a bridge that connects different stakeholders in the internet world together. In line with its credo of ensuring internet for everyone, the Society has continued to partner with relevant stakeholders for a better internet where everyone can participate in its development. These stakeholders include universities, relevant government ministries, telecommunications service providers, and ISPs. As part of the Society’s collaborations with universities across the world, it has created job and internship opportunities for the large network of ambitious students and graduates within its fold. The Society assists its members to find suitable interns or job candidates they are looking for, while providing the students an opportunity to learn more about the internet through internships. Also, the Society offers its network and individual members (including students) a vast platform of diverse stakeholders, including Information Technology (IT) and telecommunications companies, the opportunity of networking, exchanging ideas and supporting each other.
Second, the NRS has collaborated with different organisations within the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) space to promote awareness of internet governance in different parts of the world. Such collaborations have led to the provision of internet support services such as internet access, internet transit, domain name registration, web hosting, usenet service, and colocation.
Third, the NRS has worked (and is still working) with relevant ICT-based government Ministries, Departments and Agencies in different African countries, especially Gabon, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zambia, through its Government Stakeholder Group (GSG) initiative. Leveraging the GSG scheme, the Society continues to seek the liberalisation of access to the internet, sensitisation of people about the future of the internet and redressing the inequitable internet governance frameworks for better accessibility. The Society also collaborates with governments, ISPs, and other tech-specific firms to provide education, host events, organise trainings, and bridge the communication-gap among different internet stakeholders.
Internet governance training and enlightenment programmes
The internet world is regulated by a set of rules, policies, standards and practices which coordinate and shape the global cyberspace. National policy plays a veritable role in shaping the internet as the cyberspace continues to produce new institutions and governance arrangements that respond to its unique characteristics. In this light, the NRS has organised several specialised training and enlightenment programmes for its members and other key stakeholders in the IT-governance space. In partnership with local ISPs, no fewer than 20 training events have been hosted by the NRS across Africa within the past two years. Collaborating with different local ICT companies and other partners such as Sancfis, Soft Alliance and Resources Limited, Bioni, Africa on Cloud, and Bicode Solutions, the NRS has organised several in-person Better Internet training programmes in the African cities of Douala (Cameroon), Lagos, Abuja (Nigeria), Durban (South Africa), and Lusaka (Zambia). These trainings centred on internet governance, cyber security (network security, end point security, cloud security, internet security and wireless communications), IPv6 administration, the status of the telecommunications industry, among others. In line with its commitment to knowledge production and sharing, the NRS has organised several webinars on internet governance, privacy protection, economic and social impact of the internet, importance of IP address, internet standards and protocols, digital identity, and the relevance of cloud services, among others. The number of attendees in each of these trainings ranges from 20 to 35 participants.
Preserving the integrity and stability of the internet
The NRS has also shown strong commitment to resisting practices by some actors which it considers inimical to the integrity and stability of the internet. The Society continues to champion the imperatives of forming an alliance of ISPs and other relevant internet operators to hold the African Regional Internet Registry to a higher standard of accountability and transparency, especially with particular reference to corruption in IP allocations and registration. Using its distinctive bottom-up non-elitist approach to democratising knowledge of internet governance in Africa, the NRS has formed a monitoring model by leveraging its blog articles and videos to educate its members and extensive audience base on the importance of internet sustainability and other activities in the internet governance space in Africa.
In less than two years of its existence, the NRS has undertaken several bold steps towards making the internet accessible to everyone. Looking forward, the NRS is committed to sustaining its campaign of reaching more internet end-users in Africa and other parts of the world. It welcomes partnership with other like-minded organisations towards fostering a robust internet governance framework that ensures that everyone benefits from the huge potentials of the internet. The NRS remains unwavering in its commitment to delivering excellent services to internet end-users, as it continues to expand to other parts of the world until the integrity and stability of the internet is actualised.