Professor takes aim at Zero Rating

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Just as the FCC all but gives the nod to Title II regulation of the US branch of the Internet, Susan Crawford rips into the Zero rating pricing model. 

Crawford takes on Zero Rating

Prof. Crawford: Not a Zero Rating fan

Susan Crawford is one of the standard bearers for Net Neutrality. For those of us not familiar with her, Professor Crawford is a Lawyer and an Academic.  Professor Crawford has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Michigan.  Susan Crawford recently authored Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age (Yale 2013) and regularly contributes to Bloomberg View and Wired.

Professor Crawford in a recent post (here) on Backchannel comes out swinging.  She is taking on zero rating describing it as both anti-competitive and a human rights issue.

I’m talking about the issue of “zero rating”: the practice being followed by mobile carriers around the world to provide Web access “for free” to their users to certain chosen services. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Wikipedia become “the Internet” for the users of mobile data supported by “zero rating” plans, because accessing these services doesn’t cause users to hit the data caps applied by the carriers, and in many cases the plans don’t require the user to sign up for mobile data at all.

Here’s the truth: Zero-rating is pernicious; it’s dangerous; it’s malignant. Regulators around the world are watching how the US deals with zero-rating, and we should outlaw it. Immediately. Unless it’s stopped, it’s not going to go away.

In fact, zero rating certain services are anti-competitive in a way that even cable operators might envy. Can you imagine trying to launch a competitor to Facebook in a country where most of your potential customers will have to pay data charges for your service—while the incumbent Facebook is exempt?

Zero-rating is an interesting “Net Neutrality” topic.  It slightly different than the mainstream Net Neutrality discussion as it has the support of not only the CSPs, but of some heavy hitting content companies too.  Professor Crawford’s argument, I assume is based on her world view that the Internet belongs to the human race.  I guess in her view, it becomes a similar argument to how we manage our natural resources or the environment.  While the Internet has undeniably had a global impact, it is important to keep in mind it is man-made.  It is not a natural resource, it was created by profit-seeking companies and not by the state.  If the USA wants to nationalize the Internet, let’s not feign surprise if it becomes less attractive to some of those companies seeking to maximize profits. 

 Prof. Crawford also assumes that whatever the US mandates others will follow.  Let’s hope they do better on Internet regulation than they have done with the environment. 

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