Opera Suspends Free Data Offers in Kenya Amid Regulatory Changes

Multi-platform web browser company Opera has ceased its free data campaigns in Kenya in response to a regulatory directive by local authorities aimed at curbing advertisements featured on speed dials, commonly referred to as bookmarks, within web browsers.

The recently concluded initiative, introduced four years ago, provided Kenyan users with up to 50 megabytes (mbs) of free data daily.

“We had to pause investment and free Internet access in Kenya due to the decision of the local authorities to stop advertising on speed dials (bookmarks) within browsers. We are hoping for a solution so that we can once again provide free data to you, our valued customers in Kenya,” – said Opera in an update.

Last August, the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) directed licensed betting firms to refrain from displaying advertisements on the speed dial internet feature of the Opera browser without regulatory approval.

A speed dial functions as a visual compilation of frequently visited web pages on a particular browser. These entries are displayed as thumbnails and, when selected, redirect users to the respective pages. The BCLB’s directive followed a petition by the Consumer Federation of Kenya, urging the licensing board to regulate Internet browser providers displaying betting ads in line with established guidelines aimed at safeguarding minors.

Opera, boasting 13.5 million Kenyan users, primarily using feature phones, reported providing over four million gigabytes of free data in 2023 alone through the initiative, amounting to approximately $11.81 million.

In October last year, Opera disclosed intentions to invest up to $103.32 million in the African market to enhance the data-saving capabilities of its browser. Of this amount, $14.7 million was designated for the Kenyan market, the second-largest market for the multinational in Africa, following Nigeria. Previous studies have highlighted steep internet costs and sluggish speeds as significant barriers to mobile internet usage and e-commerce expansion in Kenya.

Prior to the regulatory adjustments, Opera had outlined extensive investment plans for the upcoming year, aiming to match or surpass the previous year’s expenditure on Free Data initiatives in Kenya. However, the BCLB’s directive has indefinitely halted these plans, casting doubt on the future trajectory of these initiatives.

The company says the its free data plan was made “to decrease the digital divide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the costs of data are such a major issue.”

The price of data in sub-Saharan Africa has recently been the highest in the world, averaging a steep $6.44 per GB – making it even more expensive than the island nations of Oceania. In Kenya itself data ran up to $2.25 per GB, comparing highly unfavourably with the majority of western markets, which feature data costs as low as $0.07 per GB.


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