India Moves Closer to Banning Zero Rating

The Indian Department of Telecommunications, one report suggests, will recommend that zero rating (sponsored apps) should not be lawful in India.

The agency apparently will adopt a policy banning zero rating under network neutrality rules that ban all paid prioritization or app throttling.

The committee report still must be accepted, but some observers believe it will be adopted as policy.

Up to this point, Bharti Airtel had raised questions with its proposed and then withdrawn “Airtel Zero” program that would have allowed application providers to underwrite usage of their apps.

Google has a similar zero rating initiative called Google Free Zone that has been offered in a handful of countries like Kenya, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Philippines.

Separately, Telenor Pakistan has launched Internet.org in Pakistan, making available to Telenor Pakistan's customers free access to 17 basic online services including Accuweather, BBC, BabyCenter &MAMA, Malaria No More, UNICEF Facts for Life, Bing.com, ESPN Cricinfo, Mustakbil, ilmkidunya, Telenor News, Urdupoint Cooking, OLX, Facebook, Messenger, Wikipedia and Telenor WAP MobilePortal, using either the 2G or 3G platforms.

“Zero rated apps” such as provided by Internet.org  have proven effective ways of introducing non-Internet users to the benefits of using the Internet. Under the Internet.org program organized by Facebook, mobile customers can use apps without paying for a data plan.

But such policies are viewed as a violation of network neutrality principles by some.

So here we have an issue of “good things” in conflict. One is the notion that innovation is promoted when every app has an “equal chance” of being discovered and used (even if, in practice, that rarely is true, or possible).

The other good thing is the ability to provide people access to useful apps without those people having to pay. That is especially useful for encouraging non-users to sample the Internet, and useful for people who have not, in the past, purchased mobile Internet access plans.

And it appears one or the other of those good things will not be lawful, eventually.

Should such a framework remain in place for a long time, more new apps are going to move away from “Internet” delivery, though. Some apps work better when quality of service measures are available. And some apps might have life-threatening consequences if absolute low latency or bandwidth is unavailable.

Such apps will move away from the public Internet and into “walled gardens.” That might be useful, in some instances. Medical apps, driverless cars and other automated processes arguably would benefit from higher performance guarantees than can lawfully be provided using the consumer Internet.
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