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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Atlanta should avoid the net neutrality debate. It’s not good for business

Internet Innovation Alliance co-founder Bruce Mehlman posted an article yesterday discussing the positive impact relaxed regulatory requirements can have on investment in and deployment of broadband networks. According to Mr. Mehlman, investment in broadband rose by $1.5 billion to $76.3 billion.  He contrasts this to the $3.2 billion decline in investment between 2015 and 2016.

What made the difference? According to Mr. Mehlman it was the decision last year by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal their 2015 open internet order, a decision that put into regulatory code a number of net neutrality principles.  The 2015 order treated broadband access providers as telephone companies by applying consumer and telephone network management rules that were based on communications law from the 1930s.  That approach, according to Mr. Mehlman, just can’t fly in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, Washington has been embroiled in a debate over how net neutrality principles should be applied.  There is a consensus among opponents to and proponents of net neutrality principles that consumers should be able to access web content of their choice; that content providers should not have their traffic speeds throttled by broadband access providers; and that broadband access providers should be transparent about the terms and conditions of their services.  Whether a rule by a regulatory agency is the best approach to ensuring these policy goals is an issue.

Getting to yes on net neutrality may be best brought about by an action of Congress.  Defining net neutrality in the law and laying out the components of its meaning will give content providers and broadband access providers definitive guideposts that help settle any conflicts in the future.  Without a congressional action, the industry and consumers run the risk of a back and forth regulatory battle driven by changes in political power, particularly when a new presidential administration takes over and a new chairman is appointed.  That type of uncertainty every four years is not good for consumers or business.

As more people and businesses move to Atlanta, regulatory certainty becomes an asset for the person who telecommutes; for the financial technology company that needs to maintain connection to its app subscribers; to the student who relies on distance learning to complete assignments.

Treating a broadband provider facing competition from three or four more broadband providers as if they were a monopoly local telephone company in 1934 won’t contribute to Atlanta’s continued growth.