On Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 12:05 PM, Mike Godwin <mnemonic(a)gmail.com> wrote:
It should be noted that the Federal Communications
Commission, in its
recent Report and Order requiring network neutrality for American
telcos and service providers, expressly refused to draw a categorical
conclusion whether zero-rated services (including Wikipedia Zero)
harmed competition. Instead, the Commission said it would make
case-by-case determinations based on the particular services each
zero-rated service is providing. If it were shown that Wikipedia Zero
is suppressing competition from other encyclopedic knowledge bases or
suppressing sharing of knowledge, that would be something for the
Commission to consider -- but of course there are no facts that
support this argument, at least not yet.
Prominent organisations campaigning for a free and open web very strongly
disagree with your view.
The anti-competitive nature of zero-rated services is the exact point
Thomas Lohninger makes in the presentation I linked to earlier.
(Comments on Wikipedia Zero specifically start at time code 40.45.)
Imagine if Encyclopaedia Britannica had a service like this 10 years ago.
Something like Wikipedia never could have come into existence, because
there would already be one incumbent player that's hugely dominant, that
has free access to all the customer base. And it doesn't matter if it's the
best service ... but it's free. And so people will use that. And Wikipedia
as a community project never would have taken off and come to the point
where they are right now.
Would you really argue with that?
Facebook Zero and Wikipedia Zero are transparently about getting to market
early, ahead of other corporate players, and establishing dominant
positions before others – including non-Western, home-grown solutions – can
get a foot in the door.
AccessNow takes the same view:
Wikimedia is not alone in forging “zero-rating” deals with telcos. Facebook
has also struck deals to offer low-data versions of its services in both
developed and developing countries. But Wikimedia argues that unlike
Facebook Zero, its service is non-commercial, and therefore deserves a
special Wikipedia carve-out because no money is changing hands in exchange
for prioritization over other services. No money, no net neutrality
This reasoning fails to pass the smell test. The company’s own recently
updated terms of service recognize that payment and benefit need not be
monetary. In fact, Wikimedia is using its well-known trademarks as currency
in deals with telecom partners as it seeks to acquire more users via
Current users understand that the revolutionary nature of the internet
rests in its breadth and diversity. The internet is more than Wikipedia,
Facebook, or Google. But for many, zero-rated programs would limit online
access to the “walled gardens” offered by the Web heavyweights. For
millions of users, Facebook and Wikipedia would be synonymous with
“internet.” In the end, Wikipedia Zero would not lead to more users of the
actual internet, but Wikipedia may see a nice pickup in traffic.
As the Wikimedia Foundation claims to know, the diversity and plurality of
knowledge the internet can deliver is, in essence, what makes net
neutrality so important; equal treatment of data results in equal access to
all. It’s hard to see how zero-rated services can comport with this
In addition, suggesting that free access to Wikipedia or Facebook is the
solution to limited internet access in the developing world is like putting
a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. It leaves the underlying, complex causes of
the digital divide untreated. Moreover, offering services that don't count
against data caps, in developed and less-developed countries alike, tips
the balance in favour of zero-rated services, effectively salting the earth
of low-cost net neutral alternatives in the future. The long-term effect of
these services will be a decline in innovation and competition online —
with a particular bias against homegrown services in favor of companies
based thousands of miles away in Silicon Valley — and, ironically, a
reduction in access to information and knowledge.
"Fails to pass the smell test."
"Salting the earth."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which you used to work for before you
took your job at Wikimedia, makes the same point about the anti-competitive
nature of zero-rated services, specifically with reference to Wikipedia
It goes without saying that users will be much more inclined to access a
zero rated service than one for which they need to pay, and that this tilts
the playing field in favor of the zero rated content owner. On its face,
this isn't neutral at all. Yet some have argued that it is worth allowing
poor consumers to access at least part of the Internet, even if they are
shut out from accessing the rest of it because they can't afford to do so.
However, we worry about the downside risks of the zero rated services.
Although it may seem like a humane strategy to offer users from developing
countries crumbs from the Internet's table in the form of free access to
walled-garden services, such service may thrive at the cost of stifling the
development of low-cost, neutral Internet access in those countries for
decades to come.
These organisations have excellent credentials, and they all argue that
developing countries are taken advantage of, in line with a centuries-old
tradition. It's internet colonialism.
Wikimedia is behaving like an exploitative corporate player here, striking
deals with other first-world corporate players interested solely in their
bottom line. Since the beginning of the year, at least three Facebook
Zero/Wikipedia Zero bundles have appeared on Facebook's Internet.org
Plus ça change ...