from the tricky-stuff dept
Net neutrality is a hot topic on both sides of the Atlantic, but it's not only in those regions that governments are trying to formulate policies that will keep the Internet fair and open for innovation. One country at the forefront of this field is Chile, which passed its net neutrality law in 2010. Here's how how Global Voices summarized the legislation:
The reform implies, among other things, that Internet Service Providers will not be able to arbitrarily block, interfere, discriminate, hinder or restrict content, applications or legal services that users perform on their networks.
That's a pretty standard framing for net neutrality, with a prohibition on discrimination -- and that includes positive discrimination. As GigaOM reports, Chile has now taken action against this kind of preferential treatment online:
The Chilean telecommunications regulator Subtel has banned mobile operators from offering so-called zero-rated social media apps -- services like Twitter and Facebook that, through deals with the carriers, can be used without having to pay for mobile data. Subtel says such practices are illegal under Chilean net neutrality law.
That might seem perverse, since it means that Chilean mobile users must now pay to access those services, but it is nonetheless exactly what governments that have mandated net neutrality need to do. That's because providing these services for free makes it much harder for newcomers -- specifically new services from local startups -- to compete with established ones that are provided free. Indeed, it's striking how Facebook, for example, has kept its head down during the net neutrality debates -- doubtless conscious that it has benefitted hugely from these schemes that run counter to net neutrality principles. As Vox wrote recently:
One factor in Facebook's growing global popularlity is Facebook Zero. Under this program, Facebook pays the data charges for users who log into a stripped down version of Facebook from their mobile phones. The program has made Facebook accessible to millions of users who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it.
That's clearly anti-competitive. But what about this from 2012?
Orange has struck a deal with Wikipedia to make its digital encyclopaedia available free of data charges to millions of mobile phone users across the Middle East and Africa.
Although that breaks net neutrality in the same way as Facebook Zero, Wikipedia sees it as something that should be encouraged:
Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organisation that runs Wikipedia, said:
"Wikipedia is an important service, a public good, and so we want people to be able to access it for free, regardless of what device they're using. This partnership with Orange will enable millions of people to read Wikipedia who previously couldn't."
That's certainly true, so perhaps there should be an exception to net neutrality for non-profits. But that would still produce the same tilting of the playing field in favor of one supplier, making it hard for a new rival to Wikipedia, say, to compete. Tricky stuff this net neutrality....