In a recent post, Susan Crawford once again is railing against so-called “zero-rating” broadband plans which allow consumers to access certain websites on a free or discounted basis. Although these “zero-rating” and “sponsored data” plans have proven popular with consumers, Professor Crawford claims that they are actually bad for consumers. And she wants them banned pursuant to her understanding of what “net neutrality” regulation should require.
Under Professor Crawford’s vision of the way the Internet should work – or, I should say be “modeled” or “planned” or “mandated” by government regulators – all broadband Internet providers’ plans should be required to provide access to all subscribers to all websites at all times. In other words, Internet providers should not be allowed to offer, as T-Mobile and Sprint currently offer, plans that provide wireless consumers access to a whole bunch of popular music sites without the incurrence of data charges or access to a limited number of popular websites (such as Facebook and Twitter) at deeply discounted rates. And AT&T should not be allowed to offer its “sponsored data” plan under which a content purveyor, say, ESPN, rather than the consumer, is billed for data charges that otherwise would be incurred by the consumer visiting the website.
Professor Crawford claims these “zero-rating” and “sponsored data” plans are “pernicious,” “dangerous,” and “malignant.” Frankly, I’m glad she thinks so. Because her advocacy on this point just serves to illustrate the real pitfalls of net neutrality advocacy run amok.
Or, to put it another way, Professor Crawford’s opposition to any form of “zero-rating” serves to illustrate how, in her view, the absolutist objective of total access uniformity must prevail over any other business model that consumers might find attractive, however slightly such model may diverge from Professor Crawford’s notion of total access uniformity.
Or to put it still one more way: Professor Crawford is cocksure she knows what’s best for consumers regardless of whether they might disagree.
We spilled considerable ink last year – I still like the ring of that as I “hunt and peck” away – explaining why net neutrality advocates’ argument that the government should ban “zero-rating” or “sponsored data” plans should be rejected. I don’t want to repeat all of those arguments here, so below you will find links to seven different pieces that address the subject in greater or lesser fashion. I especially call your attention to the “It’s the Consumer, Stupid! – Part II” and “Net Neutrality v. Consumers.”
Here’s what I said at the end of “Net Neutrality v. Consumers” about opposition to zero-rated plans:
“I maintain that the vast majority of consumers, if asked the question in a fair way, would say they are pleased with the additional choices they now have available under the Sprint and T-Mobile plans. I suspect they would say they are not aware that self-designated consumer representatives have opposed these very plans in their name.”
I remain confident today that this is true.
- “It's the Consumer, Stupid! - Part II,” Randolph May, FSF Blog, January 12, 2014.
- “FSF Scholars React to DC Circuit's Net Neutrality Decision,” Randolph May, FSF Blog, January 15, 2014.
- “Net Neutrality v. Consumers,” Randolph May, Perspectives from FSF Scholars, August 26, 2014.
- “Thinking the Unthinkable: Imposing the 'Utility Model' on Internet Providers,” Randolph May, Perspectives from FSF Scholars, September 29, 2014.
- “Don’t Convert Internet Providers into Public Utilities,” Randolph May, Perspectives from FSF Scholars, October 3, 2014.
- “Thinking the Unthinkable - Part III,” Randolph May, FSF Blog, November 3, 2014.
- “New Survey: Consumers Value a Deregulated Wireless Broadband Market,” Michael Horney, FSF Blog, November 3, 2014.
And if you care for more, Daniel Lyons’ Tech Policy Daily piece, published yesterday, is a very good direct response to Professor Crawford.