The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in a white paper released on Monday backed zero-rated data as a benefit to consumers and encouraged federal regulators to do the same.
The paper comes amid an ongoing debate over whether the zero-rated programs – like T-Mobile’s Binge On streaming service – violate the FCC’s net neutrality rules.
Though it mostly skirts the question of whether zero-rated data actually violates net neutrality’s tenants, the ITIF paper argues the broader benefits of zero-rated programs outweigh opposition from “puritanical” net neutrality advocates.
“Strictly speaking, zero-rated data is treated differently than other data in a way that influences consumer behavior,” ITIF telecommunications policy analyst Doug Brake wrote. “But adhering to such a strict interpretation of net neutrality would be misguided.”
The ITIF paper claims zero-rated programs are a “win” not only for consumers who can access more content, but also edge video providers who see more use of their products and network operators who gain more market share through differentiation.
Brake said zero-rated data offerings do not have a negative impact on the quality or availability of other Internet services, but instead fuel consumer desire to access the full Internet. Thus, Brake said, zero-rated products are unlikely to harm the open Internet.
“While paid prioritization would allow for some applications to perform better than others, zero rating leaves other applications fully functional,” Brake wrote. “Sponsored data programs would only make it easier to discover new services, and would not impede users’ ability to discover or use non-sponsored applications. If anything, additional data would be available to explore other services.”
The paper calls on telecom regulators across the globe to “formally recognize the pro-competitive, pro-consumer benefits of such practices and announce that zero-rating programs are in the public interest, as long as they are nonexclusive.”
The ITIF report comes just two weeks after the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) released a white paper touting the benefits of zero-rated data offerings for low-income users. The MMTC paper said the benefits of zero-rated data are “profound and wide-ranging,” and include bringing more people online, boosting uses and experiences and supporting a more robust mobile ecosystem.
Thought the FCC hasn’t condemned zero-rated data programs, neither has it completely embraced them. Currently, the FCC considers programs on a case-by-case basis.
Filed Under: Industry regulations