A Free and Open Internet that Can’t Be Allowed to Be Free and Open?


You know there are big problems with the so called “principle” of net neutrality when the New York Times writes an editorial headlined “Why Free Can Be a Problem on the Internet” and their editorial has nothing to do with protecting consumers’ privacy/safety or protecting content from piracy, but it is only about the potential problem of consumers enjoying free Internet content for marketing purposes!

What a scandal! Someone call the FCC! Innovative commerce is happening on the Internet!

Few things make net neutrality activists look sillier, more nonsensical and hypocritical than their knee-jerk somber opposition to innovation in broadband pricing and marketing via differential pricing, sponsored data, zero-rating plans or other creative and experimental pricing or marketing plans – that all naturally result from a highly competitive wireless market.

Tellingly, T-Mobile’s new “Binge on” marketing effort has prompted a flurry of handwringing that net neutrality could be irreparably threatened if users come to enjoy free streaming of content that does not apply to their usage caps, and that is open to anyone that wants to stream their content to consumers transparently on T-Mobile at the same speed as every other “Binge on” streamer.

Horrors! Happy consumers and more competitive choices might get people to think they don’t need net neutrality pressure groups to tell them what to think!

Now net neutrality activists have a lot of explaining to do.

If the Internet is free and open, how could net neutrality mean that offering free content streaming over the Internet is bad and that the Internet is not open to ISP innovation that benefits consumers?

If the FCC’s Open Internet Order ruled that no paid prioritization meant a mandated zero-price (free) for all downstream Internet traffic from a content provider to an ISP like T-Mobile, how is T-Mobile’s free-downstream “Binge on” offering or another ISP’s sponsored data offering, a violation of net neutrality?

If net neutrality activists don’t like data caps, how can they oppose T-Mobile or other ISPs for offering free content streaming that doesn’t count against their data caps?

How is saving consumers’ money on the highest cost part of ISP service a bad thing?  

How is T-Mobile picking winners and losers if any content provider can get the same deal and technical terms that everyone else is offered?

How is it neutral for “edge business interests” to enjoy a big edge over consumer interests?

In sum, net neutrality activists are wrong to oppose, and the FCC is right to allow, innovation in broadband pricing and marketing via differential pricing, sponsored data, zero-rating plans, or other creative and experimental pricing or marketing plans.

If the FCC is really about “competition, competition, competition,” the least it can do is show restraint and forbear from any material limits on broadband pricing innovation or experimentation.  

Mandating a permanent Internet downstream price of zero is more than enough rate regulation for any one FCC order that claims to not regulate rates in any way.




Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.