Pay Different Prices To Access Different Sites: Virgin Mobile Leaps Through Net Neutrality Exemption With Gusto

from the pick-your-plan dept

We’ve talked about the mocked up versions of what a non-neutral internet service might look like — whereby the service provider offers different “packages” to include different websites. There have been a few attempts to show what this looks like. Here’s probably the most well known example:

At some point, someone created a similar version that was specific to AT&T:
These graphics were seen as warning signs for what internet access providers desired. But we keep hearing from those who advocate for the big broadband guys that no access provider would ever really want to do that. Well, in the midst of all this fighting over what the FCC should do about net neutrality, Sprint’s Virgin Mobile subsidiary has decided to dive into the pool with a bunch of plans that look suspiciously like the ones above:

For about $12, Sprint will soon let subscribers buy a wireless plan that only connects to Facebook.

For that same price, they could choose instead to connect only with Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest?or for $10 more, enjoy unlimited use of all four. Another $5 gets them unlimited streaming of a music app of their choice.

This is all being powered by a startup called ItsOn, which looks designed specifically to break net neutrality to help access providers shake people down. It specifically filters only “approved” (i.e., paid for) services.

So far, it appears that Virgin Mobile and Sprint have wisely avoided marketing graphics like those above, but the plan sounds nearly identical. As with T-Mobile’s Music Freedom plan and the famed zero-rated plans that have allowed people in various countries to access Facebook and other apps without incurring data charges, these are all positioned as being pro-consumer. That’s done on purpose, but it’s bogus.

The “pro-consumer” nature of these deals is only the fact that the carriers are giving people a way to get around the restrictions they themselves set up. Was it a “pro-public” move when Governor Chris Christie’s staff in New Jersey “removed” the traffic blockades they themselves had put on the George Washington Bridge? Offering a (costly) exemption to your own crappy policies isn’t “pro-consumer” at all. It’s setting up a world in which the access providers get to pick the winners and losers, and that will be a disaster for startups and innovation. Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson put it best earlier this year about his concern for what we lose without net neutrality on the rest of the internet:

Entrepreneur: I plan to launch a better streaming music service. It leverages the data on what you and your friends currently listen to, combines that with the schedule of new music launches and acts that are touring in your city in the coming months and creates playlists of music that you should be listening to in order to find new acts to listen to and go see live.

VC: Well since Spotify, Beats, and Apple have paid all the telcos so that their services are free on the mobile networks, we are concerned that new music services like yours will have a hard time getting new users to use them because the data plan is so expensive. We like you and the idea very much, but we are going to have to pass.

Entrepreneur: I plan to launch a service that curates the funniest videos from all across the internet and packages them up in a 30 minute daily video show that people will watch on their phones as they are commuting to work on the subway. It?s called SubHumor.

VC: Well since YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix have paid all the telcos so that their services are free via a sponsored data plan, I am worried that it will hard to get users to watch any videos on their phones that aren?t being served by YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. We like you and your idea very much, but we are going to have to pass.

The last round of net neutrality rules did not apply to wireless data, and it’s unclear if any new rules will either. It’s at least somewhat good news to see FCC boss Tom Wheeler investigating Verizon Wireless’s recently announced plans to throttle LTE users, but will he let these new Virgin Mobile plans slide by?

The telcos and cable companies aren’t dumb. They know the public is on the lookout for the extreme cases like when Madison River blocked Skype. So they’re chip, chip, chipping away at the idea of a neutral network by making sure that every move is painted as “but this offers a better plan to the consumer.” What they leave out, of course, is that they actually set up the “barriers” that make the other plans “worse” for the consumer in the first place. It reminds me of the classic city scam in which the guy in the street starts “cleaning” your car by making it dirtier, and then you can pay him to go away.

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Companies: sprint, virgin mobile

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Comments on “Pay Different Prices To Access Different Sites: Virgin Mobile Leaps Through Net Neutrality Exemption With Gusto”

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46 Comments
Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Not network management

And it’s all about revenue per customer, not any kind of sane network management. It’s just not efficient to do that level of traffic shaping yourself – you end creating more bottlenecks in your own network by having to send all the traffic through devices to block/slow it, and maintain those blocklists and which user/device is in which category of blocklist.

And that ends up even slowing down other users not on one of these limited plans, and other services not involved. Part of the reason I’m so pissed off on the big telco/Netflix fight and the purposefully congested border routers is that it doesn’t just harm Netflix – it harms hundreds of other services that also would route through those congested routers – in other words, anyone else who primarily gets transit through Level3. In some cases, the internet is not as robust as is often imagined. Major links dropping packets (for no good reason) can cause all sorts of ripple effects elsewhere, even for someone who isn’t a direct or indirect customer of the companies fighting over the link.

The only way I can think of where this would work is for a brand new network that doesn’t have existing access to the full internet, and thus everything not white-listed gets blocked before it even enters the network (for either the user side or the transit side). But that isn’t the case here, as its going to be going over Sprint/Virgin’s network.

Andyroo says:

EU

Thank god I live in the EU and there is very little chance of everyone who makes decisions being bribed into supporting this, the saddest thing is that there are still many poor people that do not understand the internet and how it works and will probably sign up for these deal that block everything else and only lets them access specific sites. If Wheeler does not or cannot prevent this from going forward I seriously feel sorry for those that are conned into using services like this, it is a complete ripping off of the consumer because they know no better.

Maybe Google should make this isp the target and destroy them by giving consumers in their footprint fibre, but even then some people will be conned into thinking it is a better service that protects them from porn and viruses.

jackn says:

Re: FCC Regulation

They should be ensuring that communications are able to occur without interference and

•Promoting competition, innovation and investment in broadband services and facilities
•Supporting the nation’s economy by ensuring an appropriate competitive framework for the unfolding of the communications revolution
•Encouraging the highest and best use of spectrum domestically and internationally
•Revising media regulations so that new technologies flourish alongside diversity and localism
•Providing leadership in strengthening the defense of the nation’s communications infrastructure
(from the FCC website)

We can tell that your depth is more horrific than the FCC getting into net neutrality. (in other words, you’re not very deep). its supposed to be an insult, but Im not good at insulting people.

The EcoSystem == The SheepleSystem
ok, agree on that

Digger says:

Re: FCC Regulation

Uhh – what?

FCC – Federal Communications Commission…

You do understand that that means everything to do with communications, and guess what dumbass, the Internet is nothing but GASP communications…

So wake the fuck up, pull the big 3’s dicks out of your ass and mouth, and start to cheer the FCC on with their crackdown on these greedy sons of bitches (my apologies to female dogs everywhere for insulting your breeding).

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: FCC Regulation

The only thing the FCC should been regulating is Power and Frequency.

That they are burrowing their way into internet networking now, is horrific.

They’re not “burrowing into” it now. They’ve been involved in it for decades. It’s a nice fantasy to say they shouldn’t have anything to do with it — but they do. The question is, given that, what’s the best set up?

ThatFatMan (profile) says:

Maybe we need a day of protest on protecting Net Neutrality kind of like SOPA. But instead of a blackout, get sites to agree to drastically cut their speeds for a day so people can see first hand what these policies will be like. Some sites could operate as normal. Or as an alternative, get sites to put up a mock webpage that notifies them that the page they are trying to access is not supported by their current access plan, sorry for the inconvenience. It worked before, it could work again. Just a thought

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I love the idea of even just doing this to congress, have sites filter for congress and setup pages that load saying “to get full access to this site you must pay a fee of $x per month, without this access your access to this site will be limited, pages may load slowly, you may not be able to watch streaming videos or listen to streaming audio(pod casts)

do that shit to congress, let them see what it would be like if the net went the way the major isp’s want.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I love the idea of even just doing this to congress, have sites filter for congress and setup pages that load saying “to get full access to this site you must pay a fee of $x per month, without this access your access to this site will be limited, pages may load slowly, you may not be able to watch streaming videos or listen to streaming audio(pod casts)

do that shit to congress, let them see what it would be like if the net went the way the major isp’s want.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Their Marketing Plan

“We’re giving our customers the ‘a la carte’ plan they’ve been asking for.”
Without context, this argument sounds good. I’m almost tempted to believe it.

Fortunately, we know a bit about the context, so we don’t have to take their arguments at face value.
(And yes, I pledged to the Techdirt net neutrality reporting campaign.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Their Marketing Plan

The internet is a communications platform, not a broadcast platform. There is no demand for “a la carte” access to the internet, that is ridiculous at best.

The assholes pushing for this are attempting to change the communications platform that everyone enjoys into a broadcast platform that everyone hates. And I’m quite positive they will give themselves high fives and huge bonuses for their devious subterfuge. What these idiots fail to realize is the lost revenue will far exceed what they gain.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A better way to put it would be having a highway, that, when it was constructed, was adequate to the needs of the drivers, with sufficient lanes to handle the traffic. As time passed, and more people were on the road, it started to be more and more congested, with slowdowns and traffic jams.

However, rather than upgrade the roads themselves, adding new lanes, and maintaining the current ones, instead a special ‘High-speed’ lane is created, where people who pay extra can get on that, and bypass all the congestion plaguing the main system.

For those that are willing to pay extra, the ‘problem’ is solved(until the ‘high-speed’ lane gets congested anyway, when a new, better ‘higher-speed’ lane is created to ‘solve’ the problem. Again. For good this time, promise).

For those that don’t, or can’t pay the extra fees however, the road stays congested, and thanks to the desire to drive people to paying for the ‘high-speed’ option, will continue to be so, as the ones maintaining the road have zero incentive to add more lanes to address the congestion problem, since doing so would remove the need for people to pay extra for the ‘high-speed’ option.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A better way to put it would be having a highway, that, when it was constructed, was adequate to the needs of the drivers, with sufficient lanes to handle the traffic. As time passed, and more people were on the road, it started to be more and more congested, with slowdowns and traffic jams.

However, rather than upgrade the roads themselves, adding new lanes, and maintaining the current ones, instead a special ‘High-speed’ lane is created, where people who pay extra can get on that, and bypass all the congestion plaguing the main system.

You just described the M6 Toll road!

Anonymous Coward says:

what if i am cheap and buy Facebook only, and my friends link to a “news” article on a different site.

what if someone uploads a beacon icon, or sends me an email with a beacon icon?

how will this work when i get the Russian Bride ads, with no pictures?

how will i be able to surf porn? i will have to buy data, a subscription to the porn site, and … buy more data?

so confused….

John85851 (profile) says:

Playing the devil's advocate

Why should broadband providers care about the next video service getting VC funding? That’s not their problem since they already get revenue from YouTube and Vimeo.
In fact, a startup is one more company to deal with/ extort/ whatever. Why put up with this when deals can be made with the large companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon?

Anonymous Coward says:

“But we keep hearing from those who advocate for the big broadband guys that no access provider would ever really want to do that.”

Clearly they were wrong. So where are the shills now??? Come out come out wherever you are.

Looks under a bridge. “Nope, no shill here.”

Looks behind a tree. “Not here either.”

“Where could have they all gone?”

Kyle says:

So, let me get this straight:

These ISP’s will have to MONITOR your traffic to see where you’re going in order to BLOCK your access to websites you want to visit if you’re not SUBSCRIBED to them.

I smell privacy invasion here.

Besides, who wants to pay $12 only to access Facepalm. Where I live, that’s about ZAR120. I could buy a whole Gig of 3G/4G(LTE) data for that price and access whatever I wanted.

Heck, looking at the Snowden affair and now this, I’m glad I’ve pulled all of my online activities out of the US.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“These ISP’s will have to MONITOR your traffic to see where you’re going in order to BLOCK your access to websites you want to visit if you’re not SUBSCRIBED to them.”

Well, kinda. They probably accomplish this through router rules, and it would require no more “monitoring” than is required for any other router operations (in other words, the amount of “monitoring” that is essential in order to make the internet work at all).

Privacy-invading amounts of monitoring, such as deep packet inspection, are not required to accomplish this.

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