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.