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LIRNEasia unconference at Stockholm Internet Forum 2015 on Zero Rating.

At the 2015 Stockholm Internet Forum that just completed, I moderated one of the best attended unconference sessions titled “Zero rating violates net neutrality. So what?“.

The discussion I moderated was heated, with a spectrum of opinions being expressed.  Some said that zero rated content simply creates a ghetto-ized version of the Internet for the poor and therefore should not be allowed. Others said even a ghetto-ized version of the Internet is better than no Internet.  Somewhere in the middle were those who said the full and open Internet is to be aspired to, but in the interim ZR is not bad for now. Yet others were of the opinion that this is a passing business model phenomena which would have evolved anyway by the time the regulators and policy makers get their act together.  Also in the middle were those who said Zero Rated content is only needed because prices for real Internet access are so high, so we should do something about that.  Other suggestions called for a total overhaul of the current global consumption economy into something called the “caring economy” (which somehow wasn’t defined further, but I’m sure this is not the last we will hear about it).

Three members from Facebook (who is offering the most talked after Zero Rated program called Free Basics, formerly known as internet.org)  attended the session and participated actively.  They had to participate actively, since many in the room members had questions for them about how exactly Free Basics works. Facebook stated that as long as certain technical standards are met (like the content/app has to work on very old feature phones, not just smart phones), anyone can join Free Basics and Zero Rate their content.  This seemed to surprise many participants, and afterwards several of them stated they don’t believe that Facebook’s Free Basics platform is as neutral as the representatives claimed.  Perhaps that alone shows how ridiculously polarized this issue has become – when we sit in the same room, make public statements and the other side claims disbelief.

We really need more evidence.

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