miércoles, 7 de noviembre de 2018

Zero rating for social good

It looks that debate around net neutrality has been opened again. To begin with, net neutrality deabate has entered in the mid-term elections debate in USA. It is expected also that that net neutrality will be one of the thorny regulatory issues when network slicing features will be deployed in 5G networks. Beside these new debates, it is the still open debate on zero rating services and their fulfillment of net neutrality principle.

One of the many faces of zero rating is the focus of this post. But let´s start with a brief reminder of the zero rating concept. Zero-rating is the practice of providing Internet access without financial cost under certain conditions, such as by only permitting access to certain websites or by subsidizing the service with advertising. As fixed internet services are based in flat rate, zero rating services are commercialised within the scope of mobile (broadband) data services. 

Obviously, there are uses of zero rating services that would violate net neutrality principle. Let´s say for instance the case of a vertical integrated mobile ISPs that offers its own VOD service including in its Internet service under a zero rating model and the rest VOD service under a normal tariff based on the usage. 

But there could be also cases where zero rating maybe used for social good that have not yet been fully exploited, particularly as a government tool for digital inclusion. A first possibiliy is applying zero rating for subsidising the access to digital government services. Although on a general basis could  be a complex kind of filtering due to the multiplicity of government web sites, a simplification for an specific kind of services as health services or to fulfill the yearly tax return it is feasible and it would mean relevant savings for the Treasure.

Neither has been explored the application of zero rating within the scope of the universal service, perhaps because mobile internet has not yet been saw as part of the universal service. And it may be so in the short term because the substitution of fixed connections by mobile access is a reality. A public subsidy for vulnerable people of a mail service or messaging service of their choice would probably be also within the respect of net neutrality spirit.

A last example of the usage of zero rating for social good is for promoting digital entrepreunership, connected with awards for solving social challenges. For instance, a government may sponsored the access to private services developed by start up companies presented within a call for projects. This model could help digital SMEs to be known among the general public and promote a level playing field between them and the digital giants. 

Almost any tool has a dual usage, one for good and one for evil. Zero rating is not an exception. Beside its usage by private companies to crowd out competition, governament should explore its usage as a tool for digital inclusion, both for citizens and companies.


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