clock menu more-arrow no yes

U.S. Waffles While India Stands Against Zero-Rated Services

Such services, which allow some content not to count toward data caps, are taking off in the U.S. just as they are being banned in India.

global-economic-symposium.org

India’s government has decided that net neutrality is so important that it is better for some of its citizens to have no Internet than access only to some services provided by Facebook or others.

At issue is a so-called “zero-rated” service where a mobile operator doesn’t count data used against certain apps in a customer’s monthly data plan. Indian regulators stemmed Facebook’s efforts to bring free Internet services to many of the country’s citizens through its app, Free Basics, which made some Internet services — including Facebook — free for users, but did not include everything on the Internet.

Here in the U.S., where even nine in 10 low-income adults have some Internet access, all of the major wireless providers are offering or testing some sort of zero-rated or sponsored data program. T-Mobile, for example, offers its customers access to some music and video services without counting those against the monthly data limit. AT&T and Verizon are both testing sponsored data, which allows content providers or advertisers to pay for certain data, rather than customers.

So why is the U.S., whose citizens largely have Internet access, okay with zero-rated services while India is not?

“It’s worth noting that if T-Mobile were operating in India, these new rules would ban their Binge On throttling scam,” said Evan Greer of Fight for the Future, an advocacy group that has been fighting against zero-rating efforts. “The basic principles of net neutrality are what have made the Web into what it is today. Zero-rating schemes and discriminatory pricing are just another tool to favor some applications over others. They give Internet service providers too much power to shape Internet users’ online experience and open the floodgates for potential censorship and abuse.”

That reasoning might actually affect how U.S. regulators come down on these zero-rated services. The FCC will decide whether zero-rating and sponsored data programs such as those from Verizon and AT&T violate the rules it set out last year.

The agency approved a set of net neutrality rules last year, but how exactly it will treat zero-rated services remains up in the air.

T-Mobile began the zero-rating trend with its Music Freedom a few years back and has expanded into video with Binge On, which not only offers some video services for free, but also slows down video content, which some see as another net neutrality no-no.

But it’s worth noting that T-Mobile is allowing a wide range of services, though not all music and video services, and it is not directly profiting from those services.

The same can’t be said for Verizon, meanwhile, which announced on Friday that it will allow customers to use its own Go90 video service (and only that one) without drawing from their data buckets. Verizon justifies the move by saying it is merely using its sponsored data program, which it says others are free to use. (For details on why that argument rings hollow, see here.)

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.