While we continue to debate net neutrality here in the States, MIT Technology Review
points out how a very non-neutral net is already quite the norm in many countries, particularly where net access is much more expensive. The report notes that in places ranging from the Philippines to Kenya, Google and Facebook have already struck deals (check out Facebook Zero
and Google Free Zone
) where users avoid data charges if they only use trimmed down portions of Google and Facebook services.
The good news is these services allow less expensive access to communications services among the poor. The bad news, as law professor Susan Crawford points out, is these users aren't really getting the Internet, they're getting a strange, bastardized version of connectivity:
"For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That’s not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business,” she says. “That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life."
We're only just starting to see these kinds of free content concepts appear in the States. T-Mobile's GoMart brand, for example, offers users free access to Facebook even if they don't have a data plan
. From there, as AT&T's freshly proposed sponsored data service
illustrates, it's a pretty easy leap from these kinds of plans to an entirely new realm of Internet pricing, much of it not favorable to the end user or innovation, since it's being dictated by incumbent gatekeepers in minimally-competitive markets.