In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile

Two conflicting principles are clashing as various entities struggle to bring the Internet to hundreds of millions of people, fast, but on a sustainable basis. One principle is “fairness,” loosely often identified with an “open” Internet where gatekeepers do not pick winners and losers. It is a powerful sentiment and a reasonably good framework.

Winners and losers still will arise, but the notion is that consumers should pick the winners, not gatekeepers.

On the other hand, there are policies and practices that make possible use of the Internet, now, by milliions of people who otherwise would not be able to use the Internet, or would have no incentive to try and use it. That also is a powerful and noble effort.

Sometimes those two principles conflict, requiring nuance and subtlety. That is asking too much, in some quarters.

Consider criticism of in specific, and sponsored apps or zero rating of apps in general. Some  responding to criticism that Facebook is violating network neutraltiy principles by offering people free access (no data plan required) to bundles of useful apps, now has opened its platform to any developers who wish to participate, with some key stipulations.

Apparently, encrypted services will not be allowed, since all traffic has to pass through proxy servers. Critics say the plan is “anticompetitive” because not every app, and every feature, is supported.

With all due respect, an “open” Internet is not the same thing as an “equal” Internet.

When did the notion of innovation–and permissionless innovation–fall victim to the rival notion that only some types of creativity can be allowed? To be sure, there are rival “good things” in conflict here.

On one hand, we have a packaging innovation that dramatically can make useful Internet apps available to people who otherwise might not be able to use them.

On the other hand, we have the notion of fairness, that gatekeepers should not pick winners and losers. Both are reasonable principles and sources of value.

But all business advantage is, at its root, “unfair.” Some products are better than others. Some innovators are more clever than others. Sometimes you have to balance conflicting notions. That is what is trying to do.

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