Isn’t pricing all data the same the fairest way to provide Internet access?

An argument in the zero rating and differential pricing debate is that allowing some data to be free is discriminatory and harmful. The following video reviews that assertion in light of international examples.

(Accompanying paper at

One of the key arguments for zero rating is to promote socially beneficial content such as health applications, e-government services, and information of vital national or cultural significance. This could be helpful to stimulate the consumption of information that has wide public benefit. For example, the transmission of AIDS prevention and treatment information via social media has been helpful to educate people about the disease so that they change their behavior. Availability of free data for health information and services has been important in a number of Sub-Saharan African countries where incomes are limited and health facilities are sparse. Key applications for free data include messaging to verify that AIDS medicines are not counterfeit, conducting remote patient care via mobile phone, and providing health information via mobile phone in an anonymous fashion through zero rated websites. Users may spend 30 minutes or more in a single session to review health information, which can be prohibitively expensive. Having free access to these websites facilitates extended learning and better health outcomes.

The same dynamic would apply when a health care provider zero rated certain health care video to support patients to stop smoking, prepare for pregnancy, or manage pain during chemotherapy.

Governments might also consider zero rating a set of public websites, apps, or public services to stimulate public participation, education, or adoption of important public programs and benefits.

Yet another argument in favor of zero rating is to promote content of important national or cultural significance. In the same way as the U.S. cable industry sponsors C-SPAN to televise government activities, the zero rating of such events could allow people to watch and engage in the political process.

Differential pricing is another way to more fairly spread the cost of network use to boost uptake. In Canada, net neutrality rules for Internet traffic management principles favor the building of more network capacity to facilitate greater content distribution. This access policy, however, can increase the network costs for all users, especially those who use little of it. A more efficient and arguably more equitable solution is to focus on making data more efficient (e.g., video compression, content delivery networks) so that existing networks have more throughput. To get there, differential pricing (e.g., an added fee) would be imposed by the ISP on the content provider, not the end user. This would both incentivize better use of the network, and work to place costs where they are caused. It is the low-cost, efficient solution versus building new network access to every home where there is no guarantee that the content consumption will be the same.

Takeaways: Without differential pricing, those who use less data end up paying a higher price per megabit than those who use more. And, it turns out that zero rating can be advantageous for people of lowest income to help distribute and promote socially beneficial content.


The following statement may be attributed to Mike Wendy, President of

Alexandria, VA, October 23, 2016 – “News reports have it that AT&T will acquire content powerhouse Time Warner. In a regulatory environment that punishes infrastructure investment by pushing FCC-mandated Net Neutrality, why would AT&T not? By the FCC’s reckoning, content is king, not so-called “dumb” transmission. The acquisition seeks to make the most of the agency’s confiscatory jailhouse. The union – essentially authored by the FCC itself – must be approved without extortive condition.”



Why So Sensitive, FCC?

by Mike Wendy on October 19, 2016

The following letter regarding the FCC’s proposed Internet privacy rules was sent to the Commission by MediaFreedom yesterday:

October18, 2016

Marlene H. Dortch
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St., SW
Washington, DC 20554

Re: In the Matter of Protecting Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services, WC Docket No. 16-106

Dear Ms. Dortch:

As the Commission works to finalize its new rules governing ISP use of customer data, MediaFreedom urges the FCC to take pause and reconsider its latest plan. There are better, more flexible options to balance the interests of consumer privacy and competitive innovation than what the Commission has currently proposed. One such option favored by MediaFreedom would be for the FCC to more closely accord its privacy regime with that of the FTC. This model has worked for consumers and the Internet ecosystem. The FCC would do well to adopt and/or adapt to it.

The Chairman claims that his newly proposed Section 222 framework is “in harmony” with a more FTC-like approach toward addressing Internet privacy matters. But the Chairman’s new restrictions for “sensitive information,” which will require restrictive opt-in approvals for ISPs (only) to use customer data such as web history and app usage, bear little resemblance to the FTC’s process. Web history and app usage (among other information) represent the lifeblood of the Internet’s data economy. Competing in this space is all important. The FTC’s framework would allow use of web history and app usage by ISPs. But the FCC’s proposed opt-in rule effectively bans ISPs from using that data, thus foreclosing a viable marketplace option. Instead of opening competition, which is generally thought of as pro-consumer, the Chairman’s proposal actually limits it to the benefit of only one powerful constituency – billion-dollar, Silicon Valley edge companies, which will not be covered by the Commission’s privacy regime.

What is even more perplexing is that when viewed in the context of the FCC’s Open Internet Order / Net Neutrality rules, one is hard-pressed to understand how FCC prohibitions on ISP curation of their communications networks – i.e., prior-restraint proscriptions, bans on free association, and outright denial of editorial discretion – foster a sustainable growth environment for ISPs and the Internet as a whole. Quite simply, the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules have all but neutered these freedoms contrary to the Constitution and economics. By essentially stripping ISPs of their way to make a reasonable profit from their investments, the FCC is undermining the very “virtuous circle” policy it purports to advance through its Section 706 / Net Neutrality / Title II / Internet Privacy rules.

While other challenges abound in the proposed rules, we would like to reiterate our central recommendation made in our initial 16-106 comments and replies that the Commission should follow a more purely FTC-like case-by-case, opt-out framework for balancing privacy and marketplace interests. Though Congress could have directed the FCC to create a rulemaking in Section 222 to effectuate its text, a specific rule is not mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The short of this is that the FCC has a good amount of flexibility in tailoring its privacy protection process. Consequently, it strains credulity to accept the hyper-regulatory result presently proposed by the Commission to address the “problem” of ISP use of customer data. Other less restrictive, more competition-friendly avenues clearly exist. They must be taken.

To this end, MediaFreedom urges the FCC to reconsider its current proposal, bringing it truly in harmony with the FTC approach and marketplace expectations. This model has worked for decades, protecting consumers while also allowing competition and growth in the Internet ecosystem to flower.

Respectfully submitted,

Mike Wendy
President –
Alexandria, VA


I think we should celebrate the bias we see in big media, as recently revealed in leaks of e-mails between numerous big media operatives and a certain 2016 presidential campaign.

We get it. Many there want that candidate to win. And, it appears they’re willing to go to great lengths to coordinate, help, tip the scale, offer counsel, sandbag the opposition, etc. to ambulance her across the finish line first.

We don’t often see that “private position” because it would pierce the veil of disinterest ostensibly needed in the practice of journalism. But heck, if they want to practice like this – like it’s a corrupt propaganda wing for a campaign or a party – great. That’s their schtick.  Of course, maybe it should be called PR instead of news / journalism. Still, I don’t have to consume it if I don’t like or trust it.

All platforms present curation challenges, which is uniquely the job of the owner of the press to address. Importantly, the First Amendment instructs Uncle Sam to stay out of those determinations.

Even if they’re biased. And, they always are.

They must be.

Bias – at its base, the ability of communications networks to favor some content over others – is a feature of the First Amendment, not a bug.



Video: A Regulator’s Guide to Zero Rating and Free Data (Pt. 1)

October 7, 2016

Telecom regulators around the world grapple with the concept of zero rating of broadband data and other forms of free Internet data. From an economic perspective, this question is not new. Finding ways to compensate content makers and stimulate adoption are as old as the media itself. This series looks at key questions for regulators […]

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Title II Harms No One – Yeah, Right, Free Press

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As parties filed briefs to request a rehearing of the FCC’s Open Internet / Net Neutrality Order this month, the anti-property group Free Press – which believes the FCC Order needs no further inquiry – made this rather blithe assertion: …[Those asking for a rehearing] should give up their foolish quest to overturn rules that […]

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Debunking the FCC’s $231 Set-Top-Box Rental Fee “Calculation”

September 28, 2016

In the following video, economist Hal Singer quickly and simply debunks the FCC’s claim that annual set-top-box rental fees are $231.  Spoiler alert: The “calculation,” initially created by Senator Ed Markey, overscores its analysis by disregarding the pricing practices of three of the largest cable providers, making the number appear 60% larger than it really […]

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Tom Pelosi Wheeler: Agency Must Pass the STB Proposal First So Everyone Can See What’s Really In It

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‬The new proposal. The new proposal. The new proposal. Article, after article, after article says it. Heck, even FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls his new set-top-box proposal newly proposed rules. But it’s weird. He and his partisan FCC already proposed STB rules in March, seeking to realize the two-decade-old “dream” of unlocking the customer’s cable box […]

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Time Has Come for Spectrum Coexistence in U.S.

September 19, 2016

The following op-ed, penned by me, appeared in Morning Consult, September 15 2016: Time Has Come for Spectrum Coexistence in U.S. MIKE WENDY | SEPTEMBER 15, 2016 Over two-thirds of Americans have a smartphone. This affordable, powerful and convenient technology has revolutionized how we communicate with the world like no other technology before it. […]

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Labor Day Means Doing More with Less via IT

September 5, 2016

The picture above reflects the state of my current “broadcast studio” – a couple of portable boxes filled with equipment, computers and software.  When I worked as a union news technician 25 years ago, eight or more people could be involved in any given broadcast. There had to be a lighting tech, a sound tech, […]

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