Stop siding with Big Tech, says Berec expert
The latest net neutrality guidelines from apex regulator Berec could force broadband providers to get more creative, according to a net neutrality expert. Following yesterday’s ruling by the EC regulator, dominant players in the publishing market are no longer exempt from data cap rules. This prevents quasi-cartels from trampling on the delicate ecosystem of the European mobile industry’s supply chain, according to competition champion Barbara van Schewick, a professor at Stanford Law School and director of its Center for Internet and Society. As a net neutrality expert, Professor van Schewick heralded the new net neutrality guidelines as “a big win for Europeans”.
No data limit
As a result of Berec’s decision, European subscribers will get more data to use as they wish. For Europe’s mobile supply chain, this is even better news as the legislation provides an important and much-needed boost to online competition, according to van Schewick. Despite intense lobbying from big carriers and giant platforms, Berec voted to clearly ban zero-rate offers that benefit certain apps or categories of apps by exempting them from monthly user data caps. The new ban applies whether or not the app pays to be included, filling a gap in the draft guidelines.
No limit to creativity
“It’s good news for internet users,” van Schewick said, “when harmful zero-rating plans are banned, users get a lot more data for the same price. Carriers are no longer able to limit how which people can use their data or push them to use apps from dominant platforms.” Some say Zero-Rating is just a practice where a carrier doesn’t count certain online activities towards the monthly cap of data from a customer. Others see it as collusion against smaller players and nobulous competition. For example, many European operators offer plans that do not count data used on Facebook or WhatsApp against the data cap of a subscriber.
Berec’s previous net neutrality guidelines did not outright prohibit selective zero-rating programs or those based on categories that, for example, offer to zero-rate all music or video applications. This was a loophole that carriers across the EU exploited and they collectively launched hundreds of zero-rating schemes. These often exempted operators’ own services and disproportionately benefited big platforms like Apple, Google and Facebook, while European small businesses and start-ups were left out. Berec has now closed these escape clauses. Van Schewick argued that there is historical evidence that zero-rating is suffocating.
Room for invention
“After the German regulator banned Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone’s discriminatory zero-rating plans, Vodafone provided affected customers with up to 25% more data for the same price,” van Schewick said. Earlier this month, Deutsche Telekom increased the monthly data volume of some affected customers from 24GB to 40GB for the same price. Plus, smaller apps and websites no longer have to fight to be included in these types of zero-rate plans and can compete with giant platforms on equal footing.
The guidelines allow carriers to offer non-discriminatory zero-rating programs that treat all data the same. A mobile operator can always count data usage against a subscriber’s cap at certain times of the day or as a promotion. The big difference is that they can no longer force subscribers to use this data on a specific site. Van Schewick urged European mobile operators to show a little more initiative. “Carriers in other countries that have banned the discriminatory zero rate have innovated with offers such as unlimited data from midnight to 6 a.m. or allowing users to choose times per month when their data usage is not counted,” van Schewick said, “I expect carriers across the EU to soon end their discriminatory zero rate plans and offer customers of those plans a lot more data for the same price.