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. A recent article by Mozilla, which synthesizes the findings from the seven countries, suggests that zero rating is not an on-ramp to the Internet. Our findings from Myanmar were a bit more nuanced.
In Myanmar, we spoke to 63 respondents in urban and rural Yangon. And true enough, none of them had used zero rated content to get on the Internet for the first time. But we can’t say that this is representative of the population since we used a non-random sampling method to recruit respondents.
With regard to concerns of zero-rating keeping users in walled gardens, we find Myanmar is already a very Facebook-happy nation. We found in mid-2016 that 35% of mobile users in Myanmar accessed Facebook, and 60% of this group accessed it daily. This information, unlike the former, was derived from a nationally representative survey on ICT use and information needs representative of 97% of households and 96.3% of population aged 15 – 65 in Myanmar.
What these numbers tell us is that Internet users in Myanmar will use Facebook regardless of whether the content is zero-rated or subsidized, or not.
Source: LIRNEasia nationally representative survey 2016
Base: Mobile owners (n:4349)
The survey also showed us that mobile owners have lower awareness of zero-rated content such as Wiki-zero than the zero-rated Facebook. And more significantly, only 10% of those aware of other zero-rated content used it, while 71% of those aware of zero-rated Facebook, also used it. This fact may be explained by the fact that operators promoted zero-rated Facebook more than the other zero-rated content.
In honing in on zero rated data, we found two types of offerings.
One provider, Telenor offered a plan (no longer available) where users were given 150MB a day of free access to a full version of Facebook with images and videos. Users then tended to concentrate use on Facebook and not move outside it.
Anothe provider, MPT, through its free basics platform, allowed a text only version of Facebook. Those on this plan were more likely to realize that they were getting a limited version of Facebook.
It’s ok as for me. But I can’t see any photos. If I want to look at photos I switch to normal mode. I usually view photos after checking whether or not I know who posted it. If [an external link] seems interesting to me or the post was shared by my friends, I continue to click and see them although I know it will cut my bill.” Aye Aye, F, 24, Myanmar (R10)
Hence, while the generalised findings of the article are valid, it is interesting to note some country specific context on the findings as well.
The full report on our findings in Myanmar can be accessed here