By Rom Feria
Columbia Law School Professor Tim Wu coined the term “network neutrality” in his Journal on Telecom and High Tech Law paper, “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination,” written when he was a professor at the University of Virginia Law School. Essentially, it defines the network as non-discriminatory, that network service providers (telecommunications companies and internet service providers) must not favor any application, user, content, website, or platform, over any other. How is this realized in the Philippines?
Simply put, there is no such a thing as net neutrality in the Philippines. This is evident from the two duopolies, Smart and Globe. At the onset, the fact that both telcos provide free access to select platforms, websites, contents, and applications, demonstrate that they discriminate against others.
Smart vs Net Neutrality
Let’s take a look at how Smart goes against net neutrality by examining the add-ons it offers.
Smart provides add-on packages for users to access their preferred services, such as YouTube, Facebook, FB Messenger, iFlix, iWantTV, Spinnr, Dubsmash, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Skype, Qik, Viber, Fox+, WhatsApp, and select online games, such as Mobile Legends, Arena of Valor, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and Everwing. These are in addition to the free access to Facebook!
Globe vs Net Neutrality
Going by the same observation as Smart’s, Globe provides add-on packages for Facebook, Tumblr, Yahoo, Google, Viber, Snapchat, Instagram, Foursquare, WeChat, Kakao, Pinterest, Sulit, Spotify, Disney Life, YouTube, Netflix, Tribe, HOOQ, Cartoon Network, and games, such as Mobile Legends, Pokemon Go, VainGlory, Marvel Future Fight, Legacy of Discord, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Hearthstone, Marvel Contest of Champions, Boom Beach, Hay Day, Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda, Summoner’s War, Soul Seeker, Dungeon Hunter, and Brave Frontier. And of course, free access to Facebook!
At first glance, these packages, or add-ons, provide a good deal for consumers. However, when you dig deeper, you will find that telcos are influencing you to use these services, over other service that is not on their roster. The business behind these is that telcos have agreements with these services — and yes, it involves money! (Don’t you ever think that telcos are providing these out of the goodness of their hearts!)
Take the case of messaging services. Smart and Globe favors FB Messenger, WeChat, Viber, WhatsApp, Kakao, and Skype, over iMessage, Signal, and other more secure, and more private alternatives. As such, consumers will not be inclined to use services that provide better privacy protection. Whilst there is no reason for telcos not to promote more privacy-oriented messaging services, only one thing is evident — money!
Yes, Smart and Globe need to earn!
Bridging the Digital Divide Myth
Facebook, with the cooperation of Smart and Globe, provide free access to Facebook, under the guise of bridging the digital divide. Sorry to say, but this is not true! Consumers accessing Facebook get their personal information collected. The personal information gets aggregated, used to create you virtual persona, which is then sold by Facebook to advertisers. That 25-year old, female, who lives in Makati City, commutes to work at BGC, uses an Android smartphone, and visits Starbucks regularly, virtual persona is prime target for advertising from Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Tim Hortons, Nescafe, you name it! And believe me, these companies pay to get their advertisements viewed by people matching the virtual persona.
Don’t get me started with the ill-effects of using Facebook, too! Heck, I hate it when the telcos and ISPs contribute to the dumbing down of Filipinos. Ask an ordinary Filipino what the internet is, chances are they will only know of Facebook! Sad, but Smart and Globe, you are partly to blame here.
Sorry to say but Facebook, Smart and Globe, are earning off of this. They will not simply shoulder the expense of providing these free service for nothing!
Net Neutrality Now
Telcos and ISPs should remain neutral. They should not discriminate based on type of content, website, service, application, or even user, or not discriminate at all! Network providers must concentrate on provide the best services, and let consumers decide how they are going to use these services. Dictating consumers, by bundling preferred services, platforms, websites, and applications, is simply not fair. It is not fair for our growing start-up environment. How can a new blockchain-based messaging application from an IT start-up from Cebu compete against FB Messenger, when consumers won’t use the new messaging application because it is not free?
Net neutrality will enable our start-up environment to grow and compete on equal grounds. Net neutrality will restore consumer choice, as there won’t be exclusivity. Net neutrality will enable the third and fourth telcos to compete on basic services. Net neutrality is good for consumers.
The government must start investigating net neutrality. The Philippine Competition Commission, along with the Department of Information and Communications Technology, must seriously look at this. Both Senate and Congress must work and ensure that we have a net neutrality law. If India can do it, why can’t we?