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Thursday, September 21, 2017

The price of free: why there's no digital free lunch for zero rating or messaging

I've been thinking recently about the re-regulatory moves both in wider market analysis and narrowly in platform regulation (inspired by the un-improvable if somewhat justifiable morally panicked Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017).
I also recently gave many newspaper interviews on a trip to Bogota about why regulators (and politicians) find it so difficult to refuse consumers a free lunch when offered it via zero rating. The unintended side effect is that many poorer consumers, especially in developing markets, get their "news" via snippets on Facebook, not clicking through due to data charges to the hideously bloatware-infected news sites themselves. Not only does this prevent payment for journalism, but more importantly it has the effect of inflating the importance of fake news to the economically (well, digitally) disenfranchised. Digital colonialism, in fact.
More broadly, the 'hipster antitrust' movement (if such it is) has addressed the manifest and myriad failings of the information market, notably the huge market power of such behemoths as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. The organised lobbying and policy development resistance of the giants to the charges laid are impressively well marshalled intellectually.
The most obvious example of predation by these giants, and regulators' failure to respond appropriately, has been that of Facebook's merger with WhatsApp. Not coincidentally, these are the exact companies to most benefit from the sponsoring of a select few social media apps by mobile operators keen to turn their users on to some data use where uncapped plans are beyond the reach of users in developing countries. The enabler for that Facebook control over zero rated content has been Wikipedia, an apparently 'public service' media organisation which may be non-profit but is run by arch-libertarian Jimmy Wales. The use of Wikipedia to "zero wash" the business model of Facebook has come to prominence as part of the zero rating debate.
Facebook owns WhatsApp, which is the world's most popular free instant messaging app, in part because it has no advertising nor secondary or premium models. Therefore it has no revenues and no business plan at all. Facebook also owns the second most globally popular IM app, FBK Messenger. Thus its purchase of WhatsApp can only be seen as a defensive vertical and horizontal merger of social networking platform with downstream rival IM app. Absurdly the merger was approved subject to it making Facebook no money - because user data from WhatsApp was to be fenced off from Facebook's advertising business. When Facebook blatantly breached these merger terms in 2016, the EC promised ot take action to prevent that. WhatsApp is thus a pure value destruction play - FBK stating "we can't make money but nor can anyone else from IM". Try leveraging into social medfia networks from that, start-ups!

BEREC publishes study on Net Neutrality regulation in Chile, India and USA

BEREC publishes study on Net Neutrality regulation in Chile, India and USA: "The report shows that Quality of service (QoS) clearly has an impact on net neutrality. Regulators in the markets analysed are actively monitoring QoS, but have chosen to rely on a range of different methods to monitor net neutrality.

 For instance, the important role of the complaint systems in the USA and Chile in particular means that enforcement in these two countries has a primarily ex-post character (in contrast to the EU, where Regulation 2015/2120 requires NRAs to monitor proactively, on an ex-ante basis). Moreover, in some regulatory regimes, existing mechanisms and powers to deal with anti-competitive behaviour are preferred to tackle non-neutral practices, which provide regulators with future discretion.

 Third-party organisations can also provide useful complements to the NRAs, in terms of expertise and capacity building in measurement systems suitable for the detection of certain types of net-neutrality violations.

 In the end, the report demonstrates that many different tools are available to detect practices which may violate net neutrality (either ex ante or ex post), although no single tool would be able to provide a comprehensive solution.

Given the obligation in the EU/EEA upon NRAs to actively monitor non-neutral practices themselves, multiple tools or methods are likely to be required, thus calling for the development of a toolkit that can grow over time as new risks are identified and as new forms of abuse are encountered." 'via Blog this'

Telecoms Policy review of 'Net Neutrality'

Review now online (paywall suggests it's worth more than the book!), arguing that:
"This volume represents a truly comprehensive analysis of network neutrality up until June 2016. The meticulous research and referencing means that the text is a complete description at that date and provides the perfect foundation for additional work.
The writing style of the author is readily accessible and exceptionally readable. This is important for a text to have an audience beyond academia. In particular, the description in Chapter 4 of the way in which the European Union, in its various forms, created ‘a messy compromise’ law was fascinating. This chapter provides a fabulous case study in European Union regulatory decision making."
Thanks to the editors and Rob Nicholls for those kind words!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mozilla – Equal Rating - FreeBasics loses out to Telenor Free in Myanmar study

Blog – Equal Rating: "Respondents pursue sophisticated data-cost management strategies that include using multiple SIMs, switching carriers for promotions, and using zero-rated services to access content for which they would otherwise pay. Several respondents use Free Basics regularly to manage data expenses by using free Messenger exclusively or limiting certain Facebook activity to free mode.

Some Telenor Free users continue browsing Facebook by switching to MPT Free Basics after exhausting their daily free data cap on Telenor.

4. Contrasting user experience and content lead to different uses across zero-rated content promotions

In contrast to Free Basics, all respondents who tried Telenor Free continue to use it, and several have switched to Telenor from MPT for the new promotion. Users emphasize the appeal of free full-feature Facebook, and this content leads nearly all users to increase data consumption. Notably, several rural users began watching video for the first time on the promotion, and now use their entire free 150MB allotment each day." 'via Blog this'

Mozilla – Equal Rating Research in Peru - zero rating used by young well-resourced not first-timers

Blog – Equal Rating: "Research findings show that respondents’ understanding of the internet is not conditioned by zero rating promotions. Indeed, most respondents are unaware whether they have or use plans with subsidized data. Most respondents have already learned about the internet before using mobile data, as their first contact with the internet was primarily through computers.

In other words, zero rated services did not serve to bring non-users online for the first time.

However, users’ understanding of the internet is not only affected by their means of access and first exposure, but also their education level, and age. Respondents who have recently begun using the internet place greater emphasis on the negative aspects and hazards that come with use." 'via Blog this'

Wikimedia's #zerowashing - the reality is less than the hype

Wikimedia is in general a "good thing" - or at least the Wikipedia project is, even if the foundation's staff has grown from 3 to 280 salaried employees. But Wikipedia has been seized upon by #FreeBasics to argue for zero rating in general being good - a much less clear prospect given it is supping with Facebook, without a long spoon. As will be well known to readers of this blog, I favour non-exclusive zero rating as a short-term exception to net neutrality.
Wikimedia "works to expand free and open access to knowledge everywhere, including areas where affordable access to the internet is a fundamental barrier" which means zero rating where otherwise access is very expensive and very slow So it is the no-graphics versions that it agrees to zero rate with local telecoms operators - either mobile or zero sites. It claimed in February 2016 that as a result "more than 600 million people in 64 countries can read, edit, and contribute to Wikipedia through Wikipedia Zero partnerships".
What does that mean in practice for the global zero rating story?
There are 65 Wikimedia agreements in place, across a rather smaller number of countries. 41 are with Caribbean operators Digicel and Flow, in notoriously expensive data nations. I presume the expired agreements are not included - such as with Saudi, India, Russia. Orange is also not included, though trumpeted in 2012.
Of the 24 agreements in larger nations, only 6 were made in 2016-17 - so this is now a historic interest. The single 2017 name that jumps out is Nigeria - why is a nation of 200m people in need of a specific agreement with a specific operator? Answers please! The same very much applies to Thailand, though signed in the first rush in 2012.
Chile famously banned #zerorating from 2012 - though Wikimedia claims it received positive answers to excepting Wikipedia in 2014 (not confirmed by government). It is also not in the Table.
Other nations are either very under-developed in mobile data (Mongolia, Myanmar, East Timor), some due to allied bombing (Afghanistan, Iraq), historically under-developed EU (Serbia, Moldova, Montenegro, Kosovo, the former pair via Telenor), or very poor indeed (several Stans).
But some are blatantly anti-competitive - 2 in Morocco, 2 in Angola, 1 in Tunisia,  Ghana, Jordan, Peru, Rwanda, some of these countries with extreme net neutrality breaches.
Of course, that's only a small part of the story - even with Nigeria, Thailand and those blatant examples, the number of subscribers is much less than the 600m
claimed. The real story lies in FreeBasics and its deals in everywhere except India - especially in Latin America and Africa. More research into the numbers needed, please!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Apple's Real Reason for Finally Joining the Net Neutrality Fight | WIRED

Apple's Real Reason for Finally Joining the Net Neutrality Fight | WIRED: "The real significance of Apple's filing is what it says about the company's future. The company has long aspired to be more than just a hardware company, and now that Apple is in the streaming video business, net neutrality will become increasingly important to the company's bottom line. Apple... reportedly plans to spend $1 billion to produce even more content. If companies like AT&T and Verizon can hobble Apple's streams while boosting their own, it could be a real problem for Cupertino's video (and revenue) ambitions." 'via Blog this'