There is nothing progressive about opposing zero-rated broadband service

When liberal organizations attacked zero-rated broadband access services offered by internet service providers, they may have lost some of their progressive bona fides.  Fortunately for them the 2016 general elections and the 2018 midterm elections did not make net neutrality in particular or broadband access in general a battleground issue.

Here in Georgia, broadband got nary a mention during the gubernatorial debates with both candidates, former Georgia state senator Stacey Abrams and Governor-elect Brian Kemp giving the nod to increasing consumer access to broadband services, especially for citizens living in rural areas.

I sense that Mr Kemp would have no problem with mobile wireless providers targeting rural consumers with their zero-rating plans.  Under zero rating, a wireless provider may choose not to apply data usage caps where a subscriber is accessing particular content, whether the content is provided by a third-party of by the wireless carrier itself.  For example, Verizon may decide not to reduce the amount of data available to me by the amount of time I choose to view a video on Facebook or on one of Verizon’s media properties.  In other words, my data cap would not take a hit.

I can see two primary benefits from such a non-pricing plan. First, for new subscribers being introduced to mobile web service, it provides the consumer with incentive to become familiar with more sources of content and services.  Second, the value of the carrier’s network increases as demand for its content and services increase.  While overall costs of operating the network may go up as more subscribers establish accounts, cost per subscriber should fall providing incentive for keep the price each subscriber pays flat.

Especially given the second benefit, the incentive to keep subscriber rates flat, I would think that progressives would promote zero rate pricing for broadband.  Progressives tend to position themselves as protectors of the middle class and if there is an issue that progressives should empathize with when it comes to the middle class are the increases in consumer prices the middle class encounters given wages that have been flat for decades.  One would also think that as the U.S. economy and educational system requires workers, producers, and students to have access to data via the internet that progressives would encourage consumers to jump on the opportunity to get on the internet at a lower cost.  Instead opponents of zero rating have been emphasizing the alleged negative impact zero rating has on competition between content providers.

For example, the Electronic Freedom Frontier, an internet freedom advocacy group, is concerned that zero rating will divert consumer eyeballs to large content providers such as Facebook that can afford to subsidize a broadband access provider’s lost revenue in exchange for more traffic being sent to the large content provider.  That the consumer may be incentivized to probe content or spend more time on broadband networks is of very little concern to EFF.  The potential threat to market entry by smaller or newer players appears to be more of their concern.

Given this stance by EFF, it is no wonder that the zero rating narrative, while bantered about inside the Washington, DC beltway, has no traction with the general public.  Politically it is a non-starter with a general public made up of consumers that are more concerned with getting bang for their dollars versus whether a content provider has the innovative or content creative capabilities to enter the content market.

For progressives, zero rating is another example of how the Left has strayed away from matters that mean the most to most Americans.

 

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