With news that AT&T plans to offer zero-rated content through its DirecTV Now offering, Net Neutrality zealots have come unhinged. According to one hyperbolic lede, “AT&T just declared war on an open internet (and us).”
Sure it has.
Those supporting the FCC’s dubious Open Internet Order believe that the new service crosses the line and violates (the purposely wiggly idea known as) Net Neutrality, unfairly discriminating against…
So, with AT&T’s announcement, we’re at war (I guess).
But I hope the anti-zero-rating radicals are prepared for a big donnybrook, because customers like zero-rated / free data plans like DirecTV Now. In fact, I can’t see those plans going away any time soon.
According to Wikipedia:
“Zero-rating (also called toll-free data or sponsored data) is the practice of mobile network operators (MNO), mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), and Internet service providers (ISP) not to charge end customers for data used by specific applications or internet services through their network.”
As it applies to DirecTV Now, its “cable” content won’t count against the data caps of AT&T’s wireless subscribers, giving DirecTV (which is owned by AT&T) so-called “privileged access” to AT&T customers. “Consumer activists” feel this sets up a “nightmare scenario” wherein AT&T will seek to create the same type of access for non-affiliated content providers, essentially establishing a toll that would price “the little guy” out of the ballpark, undermining his voice and the “open Internet.”
Net Neuties want all zero-rating banned. Period. The FCC has thus far refrained from prohibiting the practice.
Let’s hope the Commision does not heed their specious entreaties.
Zero-rating is a private subsidy system, using positive discrimination to differentiate offerings in the marketplace. The content provider picks up the tab for consumers. Many sides benefit: content providers improve chances of customer adoption; consumers get free content; the network grows. This practice has long-been employed in the telecom space – 1-800 numbers are a good example. Further, it’s a tool used in every sector of our economy to derive broad and immense economic benefit for all involved.
The disturbing thing here is that the zealots aren’t concerned about consumer pricing. Heck, even they admit that consumers enjoy the subsidized / free data. They know these plans are popular.
Rather, the real reason that the they demand the FCC to outlaw zero-rating is because they want to control the content streaming over the Net. No speech shall have an advantage over any other. In their eyes, free data is discrimination (as in civil rights). “Diverse, little guy” communications are at stake. So is “democratic voice.” Etc. (content), etc. (content), etc. (content).
They bemoan that all this diverse speech could be shoved aside because of “corporate greed,” making it “impossible” for the little guy to speak on the same playing field as well-heeled competitors.
Consequently, it’s OK to render useless ISPs’ private property via government-mandated Net Neutrality – broadly neutering their ability to define how they want to serve content to their customers – because an “open Internet” (a content-oriented concept) is so important that censorship is justified. The laws of economics, differentiation, and competition must be suspended. Consumers simply aren’t smart enough to know what’s good for them.
“We will force feed y’all your digital broccoli. Open up and start chewin’.”
But how does this accord with the First Amendment, which demands that it is the right of the communications provider – in this case the ISP – to determine how content streams over its network, not Uncle Sam?
That’s correct, it doesn’t. It can’t.
The subsidy abides, man. Consumers demand it. ISPs should be allowed to offer the communications services they see fit, free from Net Neutrality censors.
Activists pushing for FCC-mandated Net Neutrality should sleep with one eye open because if there’s any war here, it’s them working through those needless rules to ensure that the Internet stays as consumer-unfriendly as possible. “Pitchforks” are comin’ for them if they get their way and the FCC prohibits these popular offerings.