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Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker offers alternatives to zero-rating for Internet services

Mitchell-Baker_Mozilla-Final_9_24_131Mozilla Foundation’s chairwoman Mitchell Baker has come out in support of Net Neutrality in India and has criticized the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for seeking to establish onerous licensing policies which would increase the costs of creating on the Web in a letter (pdf)to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Baker separately on her blog offered alternatives to zero-rating as a means to access the Internet.

Equal Rating

Baker is rooting for a new system what she calls “equal rating” or “zero-rating for all”. One version of this system advocates some amount of data necessary for modern life is offered at discounted/ no charges while companies paying for it get a “brought to you by’ attribution. Mozilla has partnered with Orange in African and Middle Eastern countries where users purchasing a $40 (USD) Klif phone (which runs on the Firefox operating system) receive unlimited talk, text, and 500 MB a month for 6 months.

A second version of equal-rating Baker moots for is where people watch ads in order to access other websites. Baker said that the foundation has been working with Grameenphone (a Telenor-owned company) in Bangladesh where users can receive 20MB of unrestricted data per day after watching a short ad in the phone’s marketplace.

There’s also precedence for this kind of model in India. Ozone Networks which provides free WiFi at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport for 30 minutes through its application which is supported by advertisements. Following the 30 minutes, users can  pick up data packages of Rs 30 upwards for accessing internet beyond the free limit.

In her letter to the Prime Minister, Baker further criticized the zero-rating model saying that it was unquestionably bad for the long term opportunities and inclusion.  “At a time when users are increasingly being pushed into private, walled gardens and Internet malls providing access to only a limited number of sites, action is needed to protect the free and open Web. However, in the absence of strong net neutrality protections enshrined in Indian law, the harmful practices typically associated with net discrimination — throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization — will occur with dangerous consequences for innovation, competition, and the quality of users’ experience on the Web,” she added.

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Other alternatives to zero rating

Medium points out to a few more alternatives to zero rating to get more people connected to the Internet. Here are some of the ideas which we thought were interesting.

– Apps/Sites which want to subsidize internet access, irrespective of their own service being used, can donate money towards this internet access initiative for the poor. Companies can make this a part of their CSR activities. The donated money can be distributed as per guidelines decided by the government.

– If a company, such as in e-commerce, wants to subsidise internet data access for their particular product then they can monitor the user’s data usage on their app/site and credit the money as discount for usage later. Companies are encouraged to use capital to gain competitive advantage.

– When financially well-off people recharge their internet accounts, they can be prompted to donate small amounts of money (Rs. 1–10) towards this internet access initiative for the poor. The donated money can be distributed as per guidelines decided by the government.

Our take

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We welcome more alternatives to zero-rating to access the Internet. We’ve stated many times that zero-rating in essence fractures the Internet and does not help the end user by giving only a small part thus limiting choice. Zero-rating would become a poor man’s Internet and giving users very limited choices. One simple method that is being advocated is the introduction of couponing, where free Internet access of around 100 mb can be given to citizens to try out services of their choice, without the government or the telecom operators selecting which services consumers should use. This can either be funded using the USO Fund, or organizations such as Facebook, which claim they want to get more users online, can contribute money to a separate fund that be used by the government to buy data from citizens, as per their choice of telecom operator. Please note that telecom operators sometimes give promotional data for free, to enable users to start accessing the Internet. Sachet pricing of Internet access is also available, to allow citizens to avoid excessive charges. For example, Vodafone offers data packs such as Rs 17 for 85 mb of data, with a validity of 2 days.

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