Nobody Pays to Participate in Internet.org

Facebook has been undertaking serious efforts to explain to bloggers, government officials and others how different the Internet.org program is, compared to the now-discontinued Airtel “Zero” program, which would have offered app usage without data fees.

The “Zero” program would have allowed app providers to pay a fee to Airtel in exchange for zero rating customer use of the sponsored apps.

That is nothing like what Internet.org has been doing, where nobody gets paid anything to participate, said Chris Weasler, Facebook global head of spectrum policy and connectivity planning. Internet.org.

App providers do not pay Internet.org, Internet.org does not pay mobile operators who participate, and end users do not pay for use of the apps.

Some, including possibly the Indian government, still consider any form of app sponsorship--with or without any payments--a violation of network neutrality principles of “treating all applications alike.”

The issue, of course, is that allowing people to sample apps has proven to increase end user understanding of the value of the Internet, as well as paid mobile data subscriptions for mobile service providers. That, in fact, is why mobile service providers have participating in Internet.org.

One can point to any number of other standard marketing and sales techniques that likewise do not treat all apps, all customers, all users the same. Promotional programs to lure new users are commonplace in every industry. 

Sales of some brands of merchandise are standard at supermarkets globally. Some consumers user coupons; some do not. Airline seats, on any route, at any time, are not priced "the same." Uber rides, by definition, are not priced the same, across the day. 

The point is that we arguably are overstretching the analogies. Innovation, by definition, means some supplier does something differently. 

Messaging, voice communications or video entertainment might be offered for no incremental cost, or very low cost. Promotional pricing for some period of time is a routine practice. Volume discounts are standard practice.

Somewhere between the desire to maintain an open Internet and "unfair gatekeeping" is the broad arena within which normal and standard marketing methods are permissible. We are, in many cases, being extreme.

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