I was recently at a forum that was discussing the development of telecommunications in Kenya (Watch the forum by clicking here (part 1), and here (part 2)). During the discussion, one participant alluded to the fact that without local content, the development of Internet will impaired. Everyone in the forum was in agreement. However, during the discussion, there was some slight confusion on what the definition of local content is.

Majority were of the opinion that local content should be defined by its contextual origin. The other (perhaps me alone) were of the opinion that local content should be defined by its hosting location.

Local by context

This school of thought believes local content is web content that has its contextual origin in the region it is utilized or served from. They assert that over 99% of users in Africa or Kenya are net receivers of information from foreign sources in the US and EU.  With African traffic consisting of less than 2% of the entire Internet traffic, it would be expected that majority of the consumers in Africa will be consuming foreign content. Believers of this line of thought advocate for the production of local  content (often in local language) to spur local usage. This content includes information and videos on cultural practices, traditions, business practices and infotainment. A good example of this kind of local content is the now famous Kulahappy videos on YouTube.

Advocates of this definition of local content believe that the creation of local content will create jobs, preserve culture and spur the use of Internet in the daily lives of the local people as content on the Internet will now be relevant to their lives.

Local by location of hosting server

In this definition, local content means content hosted in data centers that are local to the country. Proponents of this definition believe that Africa’s (or Kenya’s) solution to dependence on submarine back-haul lies in localizing the hosting.

Unlike their counterparts in Europe or the US, Internet users in Africa have to cross the ocean for nearly 100% of the content they access, even indigenous local news websites are hosted in the US or Europe as opposed to being locally hosted. A user visiting http://www.nation.co.ke which is a local news daily, has to traverse the oceans to European data centers to access it. If on the other hand this website was hosted say in a data center on Kimathi street in Nairobi, a user seated in the CBD accessing it  does not even leave the city, Internet access becomes a local loop connection. The advantages this brings include:

  1. Better user experience as websites load faster because the page is essentially just from few hops away.
  2. Lower dependency on few erratic submarine cables (Africa has less than 10 while South America has over 34 cables)
  3. Due to not using international capacity, Internet access becomes cheaper. Other than economies of scale, one of the reasons why a 1Mbps pipe in US is 18 USD and about 400 USD here is because the US users rarely incur international transit costs, nearly everything is locally hosted or cached.

Which of the two definitions is better?

The answer depends on who you ask. I am of the opinion that both definitions are critical to the development, penetration and usage  of Internet in the continent. As to which of the two carries more weight, again it also depends on who you ask. Considering that majority of the Internet content is in the English language, I think that local content by context carries more weight for non-English speaking countries. China for example has a developed Internet system thanks to the many Chinese equivalents of popular English websites such as Facebook, popular IM and chat rooms such as QQ-Chat and even an e-commerce equivalent of eBay known as alibaba.com. However, in English-speaking countries such as Kenya, this form of localization of content will not have the same effect on Internet usage. A recent report by ISOC, UNESCO and the OECD  supports my argument. This report titled “The relationship between local content, Internet development and access prices” shows that in non-English speaking countries, localization by context did more to enhance penetration and usage. However, in English-speaking countries, localization by data center/hosting location did more to spur usage due to decreased access fees. (read the full report here)

In light of the above, I would like to hear your views on the issue of local content, please leave comments below.