If anything, it is Facebook that is a bigger culprit or conduit for hate speech, not so much the picture-less/video-less Zero Rated Facebook version. So suddenly celebrating the pull-out/failure of the Zero Rated Facebook, while the full version of Facebook is alive and well is rather misguided.
Helani Galpaya and Peter Cihon were interviewed on their work on user perspectives on zero-rated content in Myanmar. The article draws on findings from both Mozilla commissioned qualitative research, as well the nationally representative surveys on ICT use and information needs. “In Myanmar and a lot of developing countries, Facebook is the internet, whether it’s free or not,” Galpaya said. Cihon noted that in some cases, Telenor Free users don’t distinguish between Facebook and the rest of the internet. They can access the full range of the social media platform’s features, and because Facebook is a dominant force in the country, people don’t feel incentivized to look for other resources.
We love that people read our research. But we would love it more if they try to do justice to how real people use the Internet.
Zero-rating is a hot topic in the ICT policy and regulatory discourse. When a specific application or content is zero-rated, the user may consume an unlimited amount of that specific content without incurring data charges. One school of thought believes that zero-rated content acts as an on-ramp to the Internet, others argue that it violates the principles of net neutrality by promoting some content over others. Mozilla funded research in seven countries to feed into this somewhat evidence starved policy debate. LIRNEasia carried out the research for this global study in Myanmar and India.
Because of the TRAI decision outlawing zero rating, various workarounds were developed. With Mozilla funding, LIRNEasia conducted research on how they were being used in the New Delhi area. Yesterday’s Indian Express carried a story:
I recently had the opportunity to participate at the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Institute 2017 held at the University of Oxford thanks to the generous funding from the Ford Foundation. A variety of topics pertaining to Internet governance such as Internet architecture, net neutrality and multistakeholderism were discussed. The sometimes-divergent views from those from those from different backgrounds (such as civil society, government, corporates) served as food for thought. The conversation that ensued on balancing between the freedom of expression and hate speech will serve as a useful input to LIRNEasia’s upcoming work on online behaviour in Myanmar. Here I also got the chance to present LIRNEasia’s research on free and subsidized data in Myanmar and India.
LIRNEasia carried out qualitative research on user perspectives of Internet use in India among respondents from low and middle income households. It is a part of a series of research looking at the use of free and subsidised data in the developing world. The research was carried out with financial support from Mozilla, the UK Government’s Department for International Development, and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. India was an interesting case in the zero rating debate. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) passed the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Service Regulations in 2016.
The debate on zero rating has been heavy on overwrought analogies and light on actual evidence. Here is evidence from focus groups of people who actually use zero rating in Myanmar. Research conducted by Peter Cihon and Helani Galpaya with support from Mozilla Foundation and others. Perception and visibility aside, users do not remain within the ‘walled garden’. Most active zero-rated-content users also use other Internet services, including Google, news websites, and apps.
We have argued that zero rated services that don’t discriminate against providers of similar content are less problematic than the ones that do. So, for example, a zero-rated service that allows users to stream music for free without discriminating based on who provides (produces, distributes or aggregates) the music is less problematic because music from any content provider has an equal chance of being streamed, as long as the users like it, without interference from a gatekeeper. The Netherlands courts appear to agree – today they ruled that T-Mobile’s zero rated music service is allowed, even though it is against the country’s net neutrality rulings. More info at mobileworldlive.com
LIRNEasia is carrying out research on the use of promotional and free data use in Myanmar and India. The results from our work in Myanmar have now been released. This piece of research was carried out with financial support from Mozilla, the Google Policy Fellowship program, the UK Government’s Department for International Development, and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. We found that differently designed zero-rated promotions elicited different behavioural responses from users. Noteworthy was that many respondents were unaware of content offered by MPT’s Free Basics other than Facebook.
The Global Commission on Internet Governance has just published a comprehensive analysis of the controversial zero rating practice and issues by Helani Galpaya. It includes findings from original research conducted in Myanmar and India and draws from secondary sources from Africa and Latin America. In developing countries where nearly all users pay for their Internet on a capped and metered basis (rather than having the “all you can eat” unlimited Internet data packages on offer in many developed countries), zero-rating — where data is offered that does not count toward the user’s data cap — is a subsidy that can be important to operators, content providers and users. Social media and text-messaging applications are among the content that is commonly zero-rated. For users, zero-rating provides an opportunity to save money because they bear no cost of the zero-rated data.
MPT is the former monopoly supplier and still has the largest customer base. But their new managers have reason to be worried whether they can hold to the customers. Telenor is a major player skilled in implementing the budget telecom network model and is nipping at MPT’s heels. Ooredoo has deep pockets. When the VietTel led fourth operator gets going, MPT can expect even more pressure.
Helani Galpaya was the lead for LIRNEasia on the major policy/regulatory issue recently decided against Facebook’s Free Basics by TRAI. In her reaction piece in the Council on Foreign Relations blog, she has some interesting comments on the role played by evidence in the debate: But for many, this “Free Basics as an on-ramp to the Internet” argument wasn’t enough to mitigate the perceived danger that users (particularly the poor, who have never used the Internet) might think Facebook is the Internet and never venture outside Facebook’s walled garden. It seemed that no amount of evidence could convince them. It turns out that the poor are using the text-only version of Facebook on Free Basics to save money by using it as a substitute for voice and SMS communication, like many African countries, and therefore saving money. Detractors also didn’t seem convinced that merely using Facebook could increase democratic participation as in Myanmar, where whole campaigns were conducted on Facebook, or allow people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly.
At the Internet Governance Forum held in Brazil in November 2015, LIRNEasia CEO spoke in multiple panels on the issues related to zero rated content and net neutrality. She was also interviewed by the Deutsche Welle Academy, the capacity building arm of the German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. In the interview, Helani sets the arguments pro and against Zero Rated content. Her interview can be read here.
OTTs and telcos really need to come up with better names to differentiate their products and services. Really. Or maybe confusion is just the point. First there was Free Basics, Facebook’s service which gives free access to a set of applications inside the app (it was previously called Internet.org, a supposedly clever name which of course was used by Facebooks critics point out the fact that it wasn’t really the “Internet”, but again, perhaps that was the point).
In wide ranging article on multiple aspects of Facebook, the author cites Helani Galpaya’s comments on zero rating. For Facebook, releasing something, gauging reaction, and then tweaking as necessary is not only normal but also a badge of honor—after all, one of the company’s guiding principles is “Done is better than perfect.” When I ask Zuckerberg about the controversy, he says, “Internet.org is working. We’ve learned a lot from our efforts already.