BlackBerry CEO Thinks Net Neutrality Means Forcing Developers To Make Apps For His Struggling Platform

from the you,-sir,-are-ridiculous dept

If you hadn’t noticed, BlackBerry isn’t doing so well in the company’s battle to maintain relevance in a mobile ecosystem dominated by Apple and Google. While the company maintains a small but vocal component of fans, efforts to launch compelling new devices have generally stumbled around intoxicated before falling down, and the company has spent the lion’s share of the last few years demanding it’s still relevant, engaging in strange squabbles and denying reports that it’s about to be put out to pasture via acquisition.

Apparently, as part of an effort to gain some attention and play kissy face with large carriers, BlackBerry CEO John Chen this week blogged about net neutrality. His missive starts off innocently enough, pointing out how net neutrality is hard to define. He then proceeds to try and argue that more flexible, tougher Title II-based laws aren’t necessary because of the “Carterfone” provisions attached to the U.S. wireless spectrum:

“Those rules, advocated at the time by Google and a coalition of public interest groups, mandate two key non-discrimination principles ? no blocking and no locking ? which have proven to be a solid model for wireless carrier neutrality regulation….Verizon won the entire C block in the 2008 auction, and has lived under those rules ever since. The rules have withstood the test of time and have functioned well. There is no evidence the rules have failed to achieve their purpose or have failed to protect the principle of an open wireless internet.”

Except he’s wrong. While those spectrum conditions were supposed to protect consumers from discrimination, they contained enough wiggle room in the wording to ensure that wireless carriers could get away with anti-competitive shenanigans — provided they pretended it was for the health and security of the network. That’s why, when Verizon Wireless and friends blocked Google Wallet to give their own mobile payment platform a leg up (which amusingly didn’t work), the carriers simply had to vaguely claim it was for security’s sake. Basically, those rules haven’t stopped carriers from all manner of bad behavior — just as long as they defend the behavior with some ambiguous, faux-technical jargon.

From there, Chen tries to kiss up to AT&T and Verizon by attacking Title II and Netflix (the latter being all the rage right now among ISPs and friends), trying to claim that because a company doesn’t spend time and money to make apps for unpopular platforms, it’s violating net neutrality:

“Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.”

Except of course that’s total nonsense. Android and iOS, while certainly no stranger to anti-competitive shenanigans of their own, enjoy their dominant wireless market share primarily because they’re excellent platforms. Developers would most certainly pay more attention to BlackBerry if the company’s market share hadn’t tanked (it’s somewhere around 2% of all smartphones as of last year). Instead of staying quiet and remaining focused on making better products, Chen’s silly solution is net neutrality rules that force developers to make applications and services for struggling platforms:

“Neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer?s mobile operating system.”

We’ve seen so many ridiculous, riff arguments against net neutrality over the years (like the idea of search neutrality), it’s hard to tell if Chen is being serious. Perhaps the BlackBerry CEO is a comedic genius, and this is a masterful troll or some amazing new performance art? Because if he’s serious, BlackBerry’s basically arguing that because it can’t compete, government should come in and force developers to craft products for unsuccessful platforms. Given the ridiculous strain this would put on companies (especially small developers) this is obviously not happening, and BlackBerry’s going to have to climb out of its deep, dark popularity hole like a big boy if it wants to maintain market relevance.

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Comments on “BlackBerry CEO Thinks Net Neutrality Means Forcing Developers To Make Apps For His Struggling Platform”

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Roger Strong (profile) says:

Much Appreciated

You misunderstand. BlackBerry CEO John Chen is giving his customers what they want. What they need.

Closure or need for closure (NFC) (used interchangeably with need for cognitive closure (NFCC)) are psychological terms that describe an individual’s desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity.

As a Canadian and a Blackberry user I’ve known for a long time that the platform was dying, but there was always a bit of hope. This death rattle provides the closure I’ve been looking for. Today is the day I buy a new phone on another platform.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Much Appreciated

I’ve got to observe that Chen must have gone on his mini-rant before a couple of things happened. The first is the recent announcement that Blackberry and Samsung will be merging, put another way Samsung is buying Blackberry and the other is that you actually can run android apps on Blackberry 10+ devices so he has his open internet there.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Maybe everyone else isn't the problem.

I don’t think that it’s a distinguishing feature. If the ability to run Android apps is what turns a “no” into a “yes”, then why wouldn’t people just buy an Android phone in the first place?

For my part, Blackberry is not and never will be something I’d consider buying because I don’t trust them. When they willingly provided backdoor access into their encrypted communications systems for certain governments, they betrayed a trust and demonstrated that they are unworthy of it from anyone.

A Non-Mouse says:

He’s trying to define “neutrality” from the wrong side of the table. As a mobile platform provider, he needs to ensure that his platform is open & accessible to all developers. *THAT* is neutrality. Arguing that *ANY* developer should be forced to make their app compatible with your platform is most certainly *NOT* neutrality.

On a side note – Per IDC’s Q3 2014 numbers, Blackberry’s worldwide marketshare is now down to 0.5%. Even Windows Phone (ha!) has nearly 6X that. Why would any developer waste time on such an unpopular platform. Oh, right, that’s why he wants to force them.

D says:

Hypocrisy from BB

Anyone else remember when BBM was exclusive to BlackBerry devices? BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) was long a BlackBerry-only feature that allowed their users to have private, enhanced, text message conversations. RIM make the BBM experience significantly better than SMS so their users embraced it and it became a reason for users to switch to BlackBerry and stay with the platform.

When RIM was in a position of market strength they had no interest in releasing BBM for competing platforms. They didn’t release BBM for iOS until late 2013, once BlackBerry was already in the toilet. That’s 5 years after the launch of the App Store for iOS. RIM could have offered BBM at any point during those 5 years but waited until they were in a position of market weakness before coming around to the idea that they should open up their messaging platform to other platforms so that their users could talk to them.

BlackBerry knows what it’s like to have an exclusive messaging service as a value add for their hardware platform. It was great for RIM while it lasted. How can they justify demanding that others offer their messaging systems to competitors when RIM wouldn’t do the same?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hypocrisy from BB

The part that TERRIFIES me.. is when I was in college, RIM was actively recruiting the ‘best and brightest’ into their (at the time) booming market growth! I actually feel sick imagining all those hopeful classmates so eager to make it big with the big company at the time… and where that big company is now.

Glenn D. Jones (profile) says:

What 'anti-competitive shenanigans'?

I fully agree with Karl’s article, except for this statement:

QUOTE: “Android […] while certainly no stranger to anti-competitive shenanigans”

The only ‘anti-competitive shenanigans’ that I know of are used *against* Android by competitors (like Microsoft and Apple).

Android’s market share comes from being open-source; which is not, and never will be, anti-competitive.

No-one can (or should) be forced to port open-source code to a platform; I mean, it sounds like what this CEO is asking for is a new law:

“Any Party that develops mobile software shall be required to develop a version of that software for each of the following approved OSes…”

Bob Webster (profile) says:

Reality Disconnect

John Chen has demonstrated publicly that he is completely out of touch with the tech market, and quite possibly reality in general.

Many apps run on Android only, or iOS only, or Windows only. Small developers may be completely unable to support additional platforms. They may not have the knowledge, equipment, or time.

As slavery was abolished quite some time ago, it probably is not politically (or legally) palatable to force these people to work on something they are unable to complete.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them.”

I’d argue that it hasn’t. Oh, they haven’t put in the development and support time required to make an app for a platform that most of its customers don’t use, but there’s nothing to stop people using the Blackberry browser. Except, of course that Silverlight is still a requirement, and Microsoft have made the same commercial decision not to support Blackberry. That again wouldn’t be a problem – Netflix could and have expressed great desire to stream in HTML5 and make content available to every body. But, they’re not allowed to because some people are so in love with DRM they lose sight of all the customers it loses them.

In other words, it’s the movie studios at fault, yet again. But it’s always easier to attack a scapegoat or middleman than go after the real problems.

As for the rest of the points, they can be summed up as follows: “developers create apps for the platforms their customers are using”. That’s always been true, and always will be. I also strubble to You want the apps? Get the customers. That might seem like a catch 22 at the moment, but it’s your own fault for losing the leadership position in the market. Somehow I don’t think he’d be whining about “neutrality”.

I’d also add that there’s an “easy” fix if he’s really that bothered – ditch your proprietary bullshit OS and rebuild using an Android core. Not ideal perhaps, but if your platform isn’t attracting apps and customers, perhaps the platform should move to them.

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