In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile

Precisely what constitutes a service covered by network neutrality, ought to be covered or ought to be excluded, remains a work in progress, in India and elsewhere. And new potential issues continue to arise, whether they should, or not. 

As part of its effort to position itself as a “digital content” provider, not a mobile service provider, Reliance Jio has planned to emphasize video streaming and other content-related services.

To make that positioning work, Reliance Jio has planned to sell content that includes use of the bandwidth to consume it, on the model of cable TV services or the delivery of Amazon book content to mobile data-equipped readers without a separate mobile data charge.

In present beta tests with employees, Reliance Jio is giving “employees access to numerous applications for free,” including Jio Beats (a music app), Jio Drive (a cloud service to store digital content), and Jio Play (entertainment app) featuring movies, for example.

One wonders whether a storm of controversy (unwarranted, some will argue, as has been the case of opposition to Free Basics) will erupt over the practice of allowing “no extra charge” access to content.

Much could hinge on whether the content access is a managed service (such as over the air broadcasting or cable TV) or an Internet service.

Over time, we’ll likely get to a set of reasonable policies that promote innovation and protect consumers. Right now, the matter is unsettled.

With the caveat that there are some important and foundational elements embedded in ongoing debates about what network neutrality, should, and does mean, many of the arguments around programs such as Free Basics, or sponsored data or even any third-party-supported access and usage inherently are arguments about sources of perceived advantage in the Internet ecosystem.

That is unavoidable, as every public policy decision inherently has implications for commercial advantage, favoring some in the ecosystem to the perceived detriment of others in the ecosystem.

That is why at least some seem to object to Free Basics or any sponsored data programs. Whatever the stated public policy rationale, it often seems as though the sub rosa objective is to restrain some other major participant from making further gains.

We should not object to contenders fighting for their own interests. That’s life. But it sometimes seems as though the veiling of “interests” as “good public policy” is a problem only for the successful providers, not for those who wish to profit from their competition with those providers.

In fact, every protagonist in every debate about Internet policy stands to gain, or lose (at least that is the clear perception) from every particular policy decision.

Despite those vested private interests, public policy must still be made, as best we can. So implementation of good policy should not be prevented simply because some firm or industry segment happens to benefit. That will be the result, for better or worse, no matter which policies are adopted.

Private winners and losers cannot be avoided when any public policy is adopted. That simply is not the point. The point is creation of good public policy. Arguing, directly or indirectly, that a particular policy should not be adopted because X will benefit is simply wrong.

X, Y,Z and others might benefit from any particular bit of public policy. Get the policy right–on policy grounds–and be done with it. The entangled commercial interests simply are there. We cannot do policy without also favoring or damaging some private interest. But the private interests are not the reason we do policy.


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