Internet.org: Sometimes Good Two Good Things are in Conflict

Right now I am trying to get some work done on a trans-Pacific flight with satellite Wi-Fi. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have it. But is is painfully slow. So slow it feels like less than dial-up, so I spend lots of time waiting for something to happen.

I also should add that I spend extraordinary amounts of time on mobile connections in areas with high congestion or low signal, or both. So I am used to impact of latency and rather lower bandwidth when trying to get something done.

Right now I would willingly accept a text rich but visually-limited service, with no full-motion video. And that essentially is the sort of problem Internet.org is trying to work around.

So it is with dismay that I see so much friction about Internet.org and what it is doing, on the app bundling side of the "bring Internet to everyone" effort. Yes, Internet.org is bundling apps so people with little money can afford to sample and use the Internet and some useful apps.

Nobody except potential gatekeepers likes "gatekeepers." But life is complicated. Sometimes good things are in conflict. Frankly, some of us would say a little walled garden activity or bundling, or sponsored apps and zero rating, are reasonable trade-offs for dramatically and rapidly growing the numbers of people who can use the Internet.


Some of us would say Facebook is listening. 

Apparently responding to criticism that Facebook is violating network neutraltiy principles by offering people free access (no data plan required) to bundles of useful apps, Internet.org now has opened its platform to any developers who wish to participate, with some  key stipulations.


Apparently, encrypted services will not be allowed, since all traffic has to pass through Internet.org proxy servers. Critics say the plan is “anticompetitive” because not every app, and every feature, is supported.


With all due respect, an “open” Internet is not the same thing as an “equal” Internet. When did the notion of innovation--and permissionless innovation--fall victim to the rival notion that only some types of creativity can be allowed?


To be sure, there are rival “good things” in conflict here. On one hand, we have a packaging innovation that dramatically can make useful Internet apps available to people who otherwise might not be able to use them.


On the other hand, we have the notion of fairness, that gatekeepers should not pick winners and losers. Both are reasonable principles and sources of value. But all business advantage is, at its root, “unfair.” Some products are better than others. Some innovators are more clever than others.

Sometimes you have to balance conflicting notions. That is what Internet.org is trying to do.
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