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Zero-Rating Harms Poor People, Public Interest Groups Tell FCC (vice.com) 205

An anonymous reader links to an article on Motherboard: The nation's largest internet service providers are undermining US open internet rules, threatening free speech, and disproportionately harming poor people by using a controversial industry practice called "zero-rating," a coalition of public interest groups wrote in a letter to federal regulators on Monday. Companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T use zero-rating, which refers to a variety of practices that exempt certain services from monthly data caps, to undercut "the spirit and the text" of federal rules designed to protect net neutrality, the principle that all content on the internet should be equally accessible, the groups wrote. Zero-rated plans "distort competition, thwart innovation, threaten free speech, and restrict consumer choice -- all harms the rules were meant to prevent," the groups wrote. "These harms tend to fall disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color, who tend to rely on mobile networks as their primary or exclusive means of access to the internet."
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Zero-Rating Harms Poor People, Public Interest Groups Tell FCC

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    On what the fck is 0rating

    • by kria ( 126207 ) <roleplayer DOT carrie AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:13AM (#51791989) Journal
      Zero-rating (also called toll-free data or sponsored data) is the practice of mobile network operators (MNO), mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), and Internet Service Providers (ISP) not to charge end customers for data used by specific applications or internet services through their network, in limited or metered data plans.[1][2][3][4][5][6] It allows customers to use provider-selected content sources or data services like an app store,[7] without worrying about bill shocks, which could otherwise occur if the same data was normally charged according to their data plans and volume caps. This has especially become an option to market 4G networks, but has also been used in the past for SMS or other content services.
      From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      • by jonsmirl ( 114798 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:20AM (#51792401) Homepage

        Here's how you abuse zero rating. Make up an ISP plan with 1KB/mth data cap. Then charge $1000/kb overage (like a typical Verizon plan). Then go around and charge Facebook/Google/etc fat fees to deliver their data to the consumer for 'free' outside of exorbitant data plan cap. Now you have achieved total net discrimination on a plan that is net neutral. it is discriminatory because this absurd fee arrangement was created to manipulate you into only using the sites that have paid for zero rating and to abandon the rest of the Internet. Of course the ISP arranges things so that Facebook/Google/etc are yielding them more profit than when you were paying for data access. Facebook/Google/etc go along with this because it increases their profitability by driving more traffic to them.

        You then say "this is cool, I get free Internet". But you aren't getting free Internet, you are only getting Facebook/Google/etc who pay paid for zero rating. You are unable to access any other web site unless you pay $1000/kb for the data. And of course you won't do that.

        • by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:19PM (#51792903)

          Make up an ISP plan with 1KB/mth data cap. Then charge $1000/kb overage (like a typical Verizon plan).

          Typical?? Verizon's lowest tier data plan is 1 GB/month. Overage rate is $15/GB.

          • Which is egregious bullshit, precisely as jonsmirl implied.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by rjstegbauer ( 845926 )

            Whoooosh?

          • And you could probably reach that 1GB in less than an hour. Possibly without your knowledge. As the GP pointed out, cellular providers and ISPs are basically engaged in racketeering. Delivering a packet has a semi-fixed cost. Telecoms have decided that they want to offload that cost to content providers. So, basically, they collect a fee from users to provide a service, then turn around to the content providers and say, "This is a pretty nice service you have here. It would be a shame if people couldn

            • by tsqr ( 808554 )

              And you could probably reach that 1GB in less than an hour. Possibly without your knowledge.

              I suppose you could, if you are clueless about the terms of your plan, ignorant about how your device works, don't set a data usage alert, don't set a data usage limit, and are in the habit of streaming high-bandwidth content without regard for the circumstances. What a nightmare!

    • by Sigma 7 ( 266129 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:16AM (#51792011)

      Zero rating causes some websites to not count towards the data cap.

      Seems minor, but consider users worrying about a data cap limit and not playing Netflix streams, when another competitor isn't subject to that restriction.

      • by jdavidb ( 449077 )
        Sounds like competition to me. You give me a discount on service under some circumstances. This is somehow racist, if I'm reading the summary correctly.
      • I thought it was for things like U-verse in that you have a theoretical data cap on your U-verse internet but U-verse television does not count towards that cap. In other words, there's no third party involved (it may be the case that AT&T does not actually check your usage since you can't ever get the data about how much you use from AT&T itself). A similar thing would happen for cable companies if their television and internet shared the same bandwidth.

    • by BranMan ( 29917 )

      From what I gather from the articles - I had to dig a little - zero-rating is the practice of having a data cap on your mobile data plan, and then offering certain sites/services that do NOT count towards your cap.

      Net neutrality is preventing your carrier from slowing down OR SPEEDING UP certain services or sites in relation to others - everything must be on an absolutely equal level.

      This breaks that by effectively creating a fast lane. So they could force, say

      • by twistedsymphony ( 956982 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:48AM (#51792209) Homepage
        Not a "fast lane", more like a "toll free" lane. The problem here isn't about speed, and I don't believe that's what net-netrality is about either. Anti-Net-Neutrality practices identify the content going through the data stream and treat some packets differently than others based on that content. Net-neutrality is about treating all packets equally, not just in terms of speed, but in terms of cost, or any other factor.
        • I'd like to point out that Net Neutrality is specifically NOT about an "internet fast-lane" because that already exists. Not being able to prioritise packets based on content would obliterate any ability to use VoIP and destroy the only reason to buy business class internet service. I don't care that some brain-dead dreg squatting around in his underwear wants to watch his cat videos and his hentai instantaneously. Being able to teleconference and colaborate with a client\coworker [b]IS[/b] more important i

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            In a properly configured network, this wouldn't be a problem. The cat hentai guy could spend his commit on videos and the business could choose to prioritize THEIR OWN VOIP packets so they spend their commit on business calls. Both would go through just fine.

        • Anti-Net-Neutrality practices identify the content going through the data stream and treat some packets differently than others based on that content. Net-neutrality is about treating all packets equally, not just in terms of speed, but in terms of cost, or any other factor.

          At the risk of invoking the No True Scotsman, that isn't exactly what Net Neutrality was supposed to be about. Normal QoS is acceptable; Net Neutrality is supposed to be solely with regards to source and destination. Time-sensitive data, such as VoIP, can still be prioritized over time-insensitive data, such as BitTorrent; throttling Vonage's VoIP service while prioritizing Verizon's VoIP service would be a violation of Net Neutrality.

        • I like to think of it in simpler terms. It's the phone company choosing the winners and losers on the Internet. Because as a whole whatever the phone company chooses will be bad for everyone, history proves that.

      • Net neutrality is preventing your carrier from slowing down OR SPEEDING UP certain services or sites in relation to others - everything must be on an absolutely equal level.

        Referring to "services" is a little ambiguous. It should be made clear that net neutrality does not prohibit ISPs from discriminating based on protocol (e.g. HTTP vs. VOIP); that's just QoS and is still perfectly reasonable. The key is that the throttling cannot discriminate based on the origin or destination.

  • A complex game? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:10AM (#51791963) Journal
    Is it possible that the wireless companies are playing a complex psychological game here, trying to turn public sentiment away from net neutrality, by first offering to not (in essence) charge for certain services, secretly expecting someone to raise complaints against the practice because it violates net neutrality, so they can then throw up their hands and say "Sorry, the FCC won't allow us to give this to you for free, so now we're forced to count it against your data cap"?
    • by Chewbacon ( 797801 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:17AM (#51792381)

      So ban datacaps?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If that's what the wireless operators think they're doing, they're just beyond stupid. What do they think will happen? Every web hoster in the world buys their service? No, they'll buy their place on Facebook, and Facebook becomes the ISPs' only client, with obvious effects on negotiations. They don't like to compete for the millions of customers because we're all cheap bastards who want more bandwidth for almost no money? Just wait until they have to compete for a handful of gatekeepers who can ruin them w

  • basically on one side we have,
    limited content, mostly preselected by others, offered at zero cost.
    on other side,
    unlimited content, which must be selected by consumer expending time and effort(esp brain), offered at a price.

    economics of mass acceptance of 1st could eventually lead to limitation of all content even for those making 2nd choice, or at least ever higher prices in 2nd choice

    but should government(fcc) decide to ban the 1st prevent that? or let the consumer decide (even if most will choose them 1st)? that is the question. harder to answer than it appears.

  • by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:37AM (#51792127)
    I think the gist of this complaint, /. headline aside, is that zero-rating harms open competition and violates the FCC's policies towards net neutrality. The impact on poor people isn't the focus of it. An example might be how T-Mobile doesn't count Pandora traffic against the cap. While I might prefer to use another music service, I use Pandora since it doesn't count against the cap. Thus putting competitors at a disadvantage. Of course, large established players always have all sorts of advantages.
    • So tell the provider you'd prefer to use that they could have your business (and likely many others) for the low cost of a simple phone call and someone's time to fill out a couple of forms. Really, that's all it takes to get T-mobile to zero-rate your music streaming service. Hell, they'll even zero-rate your private server for that purpose; I stream from mine all the time and it never costs me (though I'm now on unlimited LTE, I did get my server zero-rated when I had a cap).

      They don't charge a cent for
      • That is really interesting. Maybe the others are already rate free, and I just assumed otherwise since pandora was the one specifically mentioned when i signed up. I use that anyway so i never looked into much further.
        • The others are :)

          And, in fact, Rhapsody is T-Mobile's music streaming partner; you get a free Rhapsody subscription with T-Mobile's JUMP! service, and that's zero-rated as well. Which, honestly, is fine, because they offer a free zero-rating option to any other music streaming provider who asks.
  • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:43AM (#51792589)
    ...you whiny liberal bitches. This is the free market at work. If the telecoms don't want to waste their time on squeezing money from low-lifes and bottom-feeders like "the poor", they don't have to. They should be free to run their businesses in whatever way they find most profitable. Right? So just STFU about net neutrality, and monopolies, all the rest of your socialist ideas.
  • by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @01:29PM (#51793481) Homepage

    Zero-rating is the new 800 number. Remember when you had to pay for long distance phone calls by the minute? Companies who wanted you to use their services would set up 800 numbers so you could call them for free. The receiver of the call paid the bill.

    Zero-rated services likewise have to pay, or have to comply with certain rules, to be included in the zero-rating program.

    800 numbers didn't kill the "neutrality" of phone calling, and I don't think zero-rating necessarily will kill off net neutrality. As long as every business has the same opportunity to become part of the zero-rating tier, and the costs aren't prohibitive, a form of neutrality is preserved. On the other hand, if the carrier only exempts its own services, and doesn't let other in, or makes it cost-prohibitive, then we have a problem.

    • 800 numbers didn't kill the "neutrality" of phone calling,

      800 numbers don't substitute for talking to your friends and relatives.

  • Racist? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "communities of color"

    Can someone explain to me why this policy has a racial bias? Or is this just along the lines of "terrorists and pedophiles" and "think of the children" type arguments?

  • World ends, poor and minorities disproportionately affected...

    Why does *everything* have to be filtered through an SJW lens?

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