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:
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.