zero rating


Helani Galpaya and Shamistra Soysa participated in the second IGF (2007) held in Rio. But in 2015 our engagement was an order of magnitude higher. Helani participated in two Main Sessions and five workshops. She also spoke at a side event organized by Deutsche Welle for media personnel from Africa. Tuesday, November 10 9:00am-10:30am WS 126 Can Internet rights and access goals be reconciled?
Dhiraagu tends to respond to these kinds of things strongly. Should be interesting. Ooredoo Maldives and Facebook have partnered to connect more people to the internet with the launch of Free Basics in the Maldives. Free Basics, a Facebook-led initiative, is aimed at making internet access available to the two thirds of the world’s population who have never been connected to the internet before. It is available to more than one billion people across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
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.
The raging debate on Zero Rated content is, for the most part, taking place in a vacuum of evidence. A successful campaign by activists  ensured that many of the 1.2 million responses sent to TRAI’s proposed net neutrality regulations in April 2015 called for banning internet.org (Facebook’s Zero Rated offering, now called Free Basics).  The fear that the poor who use the free version of the internet offered by Facebook will not use anything else but Facebook has been one of the harms many advocates put forth.
One of the unconference sessions proposed by LIRNEasia has been chosen. Time and place will be announced here. Zero Rating violates Net Neutrality – so what? Zero Rated content doesn’t count towards his/her data cap. Users can consume this content for free/very cheap, while paying “regular” data fees for others.
Manu Joseph hits back at the overheated rhetoric driving the opposition to zero rating. He also mentions the Quartz piece citing Helani’s report from the field in Indonesia. A lazy, neurotic suspicion of the large corporation is also behind the obtuse alarm over Free Basics. But the very strength of the parallel Internet for the poor is that it is corporate strategy. Mark Zuckerberg has tried his best to give it a humanitarian spin, which may not be wholly a lie, but I do hope the venture is not purely altruistic.
Helani Galpaya asks the most basic question in a Council on Foreign Relations blog. She bases her position on evidence from the field: her direct observations in Java that went around the world and the recent Myanmar baseline Teleuse study. In the end, the best defense against the possible downsides of ZR is high levels of competition at all parts of the broadband value chain—content, application, devices, international connectivity—not just in retail mobile connectivity. Given the low capacity of many regulatory institutions in Asia, it probably makes sense for regulators to focus on creating a competitive environment and let the ZR battle play out, while being ready to act if actual harm occurs. If regulators insist on acting to enforce net neutrality policies, they could take other actions, such as making ZR offerings time-limited or mandating the first click outside of the walled garden also be zero-rated.
Low connectivity and low regulatory capacity are characteristics of most emerging Asian countries.  Any NN regulation needs to take these realities into account.  So when we looked at the possible ways TRAI can and should act, we ended somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Read our response here.
That Quartz piece sure has legs. Ask Helani Galpaya, a researcher with policy think tank LIRNEasia, who in 2012 came across a curious anomaly while researching “bottom of pyramid” telephone users in Indonesia. When asked questions about the Internet, most of the respondents said they didn’t use it. But when asked about Facebook, most of them said they used it often. “In their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” concluded Rohan Samarajiva, LIRNEasia’s head.
The situations in the US and our countries are very different: we have more competition at the access-network level, we have more people who are not connected and our retail pricing schemes are more rational. But it’s illuminating that the FCC is not as excited about zero rating as some other people: Under the FCC’s newly approved net neutrality rules, wireless carriers and other ISPs will not have to go the agency and ask permission every time they want to introduce a new offering or mobile broadband plan, such as a new zero-rating plan, according to FCC officials. The FCC adopted three so-called “bright line” rules for net neutrality: no blocking of legal content; no throttling of Internet traffic on the basis of content; and no paid prioritization of content. For everything not covered by those rules, the FCC approved a catchall “standard for future conduct,” which will used to ensure that broadband providers are not “unreasonably interfering with or unreasonably disadvantaging” the ability of consumers and content providers to use the Internet and connect to each other. Future practices will be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Discussions on net neutrality usually generate more heat than light. Based on her star turn at IGF 2014 in Istanbul where she sought to bring data from the trenches to the soaring abstractions that characterise the debate, LIRNEasia CEO has been invited to speak at a high-profile panel in Barcelona. The panel description.
Helani Galpaya, CEO of LIRNEasia spoke at the Workshop2014 on ‘Net Neutrality, Zero Rating and development: what’s the data?’ I think local has been a problem and is a fundamental problem in Asia, emerging Asia, irrespective of zero rated content. People on Facebook — for network effects, because it has cool stuff and your friend, and I think the solution to that is to have ‑‑ if you want local content, you need to produce more local content. You need more local content giving apps and irrespective of zero‑rated content, there are no killer apps. There aren’t that many killer apps that are relevant in these countries.
Of all the sessions that LIRNEasia people spoke at (eight officially; nine if the one where I was asked to speak on our big data work is included), the zero-rating session had been the most controversial. Understandably, it has drawn the attention of journalists. Helani Galpaya, CEO of LIRNEasia noted that mobile phones have a high penetration across countries in South-East and South Asia, and that there even exist a fair number of low priced data plans. However there are many at the so-called bottom of the pyramid for whom even a low priced data plan is still challenging. Zero rating has helped them come on aboard.
Well before zero rating, poor people in Indonesia were telling us how they used Facebook, a few minutes after telling us they were not Internet users. This seemed like a choice they had made. We reported it, and actually made it a part of the argument we used to beat back the misbegotten effort by ETNO and friends to impose sending-party-network-pays on the Internet through WCIT. At that point, no one complained about how wrong it was that the Indonesian poor was not using the full range of knowledge and information available on the web. But now they are.
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