A few weeks ago, I wrote about “Connecting the unconnected“, taking a look at various strategies to provide introductory connectivity to people who cannot otherwise afford devices or broadband service.
Some of these strategies involve providing access to a limited number of “zero-rated” services, such as Wikipedia.
Through the years, carriers have used (and continue to use) zero-rated offerings as a way to get people to expand their use of services. To this day, many companies have “social plans”, providing limited access to some social networking sites for a flat monthly rate.
Internet.org is a zero-rated service being offered in less developed countries seeking to provide affordable access to a limited number of sites. “Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, nonprofits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have internet access.”
Like flat rate services in Canada, activists have criticized Internet.org for violating “net neutrality”, favoring Facebook over other websites and services.
In a news story this morning, BBC quotes Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, striking back at the activists:
But Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg said it was “not sustainable to offer the whole internet for free”.
“It costs tens of billions of dollars every year to run the internet, and no operator could afford this if everything were free,” he said in an online video posted to Internet.org’s website.
Mr Zuckerberg said that people should not prevent others from using the internet in order to defend an “extreme definition of net neutrality”.
“Are we a community that values people and improving people’s lives above all else, or are we a community that puts the intellectual purity of technology above people’s needs?” he asked.
In announcing the Internet.org Platform, Zuckerberg says “For most people who aren’t online, the biggest barrier to connecting isn’t lack of infrastructure – more than 80% of the world’s population already lives within range of a mobile signal. Instead, the biggest challenges are affordability of the internet, and awareness of how internet services are valuable to them.”
Should carriers and applications be restricted in exploring business models that increase adoption of digital technology and services? Or, as Zuckerberg asks, will an “extreme definition of net neutrality” put “the intellectual purity of technology above people’s needs?”
Zero rating of services is certain to be raised by a number of the panels at The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit, which opens in 4 weeks in Toronto. On Monday June 1, a panel of top telecom economists from Canada and the US will be exploring “Competition in telecom: net neutrality and innovation“. On June 2, the regulatory executives from Canada’s leading communications service providers will debate the full range of issues facing regulation and government policy. and, on June 3, two panels will related issues with “Hyper Connectivity: Shaping Personal & Business Digital Relationships” and “Coming to Any Screen Near You: The video revolution“.