"All Apps Treated Equally" Will Slow Internet Adoption in Emerging Countries

Pandora and Facebook have at least one thing in common: both apps have been bundled as "no incremental cost to use" apps in markets such as the Philippines. In other words, those apps are "zero rated." People can use Facebook, in some cases, even if they do not buy a mobile Internet access plan.



In other cases, Pandora can be used as a zero-rated app when mobile Internet access is purchased. 



It is clear enough why both practices raise the value of a smartphone or mobile Internet access. But both practices would seem clearly to fly in the face of the notion that "all apps be treated the same."



Zero-rated app access--to one app--does not treat all apps equally. 



Mark Zuckerberg argues that, "in the future, everyone should have access to basic Internet services as well, even if they haven't paid for a data plan."



That will encourage more people to get a mobile Internet access plan. Such practices also allow people to experience the value of mobile Internet access. 



But make note: such practices do not treat all apps equally. They treat one or a few apps quite unequally. 



How fast mobile Internet is adopted in many countries could hinge on such practices. That is an illustration of why some think network neutrality is not such a great idea. Antitrust laws exist to prevent unfair business practices.



But giving people access to valuable apps, without charge, is not an unfair business practice. 



Some might call it an important marketing tactic. Others might say it is one way to provide some basic value of the Internet to people who do not yet use the Internet. 



As already has been discovered in developed nation Internet markets, at some point, the barrier to adoption is not "access," the physical ability to get connected to the Internet.



The late adopters typically are people who do not see the value of using the Internet. Zero-rated apps are one way of demonstrating value. 



People can disagree about whether quality of service mechanisms ought to be lawful. It is harder to justify blocking zero-rated apps. 




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