Zero rating, also known as “sponsored data”, is the policy of mobile network providers and mobile virtual network providers to not charge their clients for using specific services, such as Facebook or YouTube. Zero rating is a bad idea for several reasons: You give specific services an advantage over their competitors, and push users towards using a certain service and disadvantage all others.
This is particularly dangerous in third world countries, because the markets there are still in development. It’s now come to light that in certain African and Asian countries the number of Facebook users is larger than the number of (open) internet users. Which is bad news. It increases Facebook’s ever-growing data monopoly. It’s also detrimental for these countries because it puts the mobile market under pressure: The larger mobile operators that can offer these kinds of bundles are able to easily push the competitors aside.
Many of these concerns are also true for Europe: these kinds of plans consolidate the power of large mobile providers, and force internet users towards the existing monopolists on the individual service market. This is not only bad for freedom of communication, but also for innovation, because new businesses don’t stand a real chance.
In the Netherlands, net neutrality policy explicitly prohibits price discrimination. This restriction can be negative, meaning that Internet providers may not offer more expensive specific individual services in combination with internet access, and positive, meaning that Internet providers may not offer cheaper individual services in combination with internet access. This is beneficial for both freedom of information and innovation.
As previously reported in EDRi-gram, Vodafone was recently fined for such practices in the Netherlands. They wanted to offer the “HBO go” app to Vodafone clients without its data use being deducted from their data limit for the first three months.
Negotiations about the European rules that must regulate net neutrality are delicate. Not surprisingly, when the large Member States can feel the large telecom companies breathing down their necks. In the most recent compromise proposal, this sort of price discrimination is not banned, but it does state the need to avoid the kind of agreements being made that lead to the stifling of competition. Dutch EDRi-member Bits of Freedom together with other European civil rights organisations, submitted comments and suggestions at every stage of the discussions in Council, hoping that policy-makers see the advantages an open an innovative online environment that protects net neutrality. Such an environment needs a clear ban on zero rating.
Net neutrality: freedom also means banning positive discrimination (11.20.2015)
Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet (09.02.2015)
In the Netherlands, where zero-rating is banned, KPN just doubled (free of charge) the mobile internet volume caps to encourage a carefree usage of its online videos (06.02.2015)
EDRi-gram: Netherlands: Two telcos fined for net neutrality violations (11.02.2015)
(Contribution by Floris Kreiken, EDRi-member Bits of Freedom, Netherlands; translated from Dutch by Natasha Baron)