Today, several Indian web companies withdrew from Internet.org, a program that allows mobile Internet users unlimited use of Facebook and other participating sites and services without counting that use against their mobile data cap. Such “Zero-Rating” has helped mobile carriers gain new customers, especially in developing markets with low adoption rates but has been criticized as a “net neutrality” violation. In India, Internet.org had offered 38 such sites, in addition to Facebook.
“This is a textbook example of net neutrality absolutism run amok,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “Offering free services helps get people online for the first time. It’s also is an important way for carriers to distinguish themselves in a market as vibrantly competitive as India’s, which includes no fewer than seven strong mobile carriers.”
“Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time absolutists have stoked outrage to stop zero-rating,” noted Szoka. “Back in 2011, MetroPCS offered an entry-level data plan with unlimited YouTube aimed at new adopters, mainly minorities in America’s inner cities. Despite the program’s obvious benefits and MetroPCS’s obvious lack of market power as the distant #5 provider, net neutrality activists fueled such a media frenzy that the company abandoned the program — even though it was almost certainly legal under the FCC’s new net neutrality rules. A year later, the company decided it couldn’t survive on its own, so merged with T-Mobile, the #4 carrier.
“There are better ways to address concerns about zero-rating,” concluded Szoka. “Net neutrality advocates should focus their efforts on ensuring that participation in zero-rating programs is open and that traditional antitrust and consumer protection laws are enforced. But most of all governments everywhere need to do everything they can to make it easier for private companies to expand and upgrade broadband networks. That means making as much spectrum as possible available for mobile service and ensuring that carriers can effectively and creatively market their offerings to consumer — because mass adoption is essential to making investment profitable.”
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