"Prominent organisations campaigning for a free and open web very
strongly disagree with your view."
I said there are no facts, and you responded by citing opinion pieces.
That's cool, but opinions are not themselves facts.
Furthermore, in some circles, I've been considered from time to time
to be someone "prominent" whose entire career has been dedicated to a
free and open web. If you're suggesting that everyone -- or even
everyone "prominent" -- who believes in a free and open web "very
strongly" disagrees with me, then you are misinformed. There is an
honest difference of opinion about what the developing world needs
first. And, in my experience, it is only individuals in developed,
industrialized countries with very little direct knowledge about the
infrastructural and access challenges in developing countries who
imagine that zero-rated services are categorically a threat to "a free
and open web."
I've actually written about this issue at length, and will be
publishing another article on the issue next week. I'll post the link
here when I have it.
Whether the U.S. government's Federal Communications is not itself a
"prominent organization" that has committed itself to "a free and open
web" is a proposition worth challenging is, of course, up to you. But
I hope you don't expect such a challenge to be taken seriously. I know
the FCC's new Report and Order on net neutrality is a very long
(400-page) document, and there is of course no requirement that you
actually have read it (much less some appreciable fraction of the
comments that led to it). But I've done so. The FCC expressly refused
to adopt the categorical, simplistic, binary approach you have posted
My friends and colleagues at EFF, Access Now, and elsewhere -- as well
as individual scholars and commentators like Marvin Ammori -- know me,
and they know why I differ with them about this stuff. What I have
explained to them is that my experiences of working with in-country
NGOs in the developing world (who don't, in fact, disagree with me
about this) have shaped my opinion. If your own experience in working
on access issues in (say) Africa or Southeast Asia is stronger than my
own, I'd be more likely to be persuaded by your, uh, "original
research" than by your effort to selectively adduce footnotes in
support of your assertions. At least that's my inclination after a
quarter of a century of working for internet freedom. (I was the first
employee at EFF, where I worked for nine years.)
The Access Now editorial, in particular, was drafted by someone who
had not been open to discussing why it doesn't make sense to describe
Wikipedia Zero as having "forged deals" with telcos. How do I happen
to know this? Because, as a result of conversations with Marvin
Ammori, I tried reaching out to Access Now. (The author is not among
the many Access Now lawyers I know personally.) Those efforts never
went anywhere--the writer wasn't interested in discussing it. What you
may not know, if you are not based in Washington, DC, policy circles,
is that very many (although not all) network-neutrality activists are
afraid that if there is *any* exception to a categorical prohibition
on zero-rated services, this will somehow undermine network neutrality
forever. I do not share their predisposition (or yours) to understand
the issue in such simplistic, binary terms.
Please forgive me for not re-reading the Access Now editorial again,
even though you quote it so heavily here. I've discussed the editorial
face-to-face, however, with my Access Now friends in DC, and again at
the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul last year, and just last
week at RightsCon in Manila, where I was a guest speaker and moderator
of a panel on internet-rights initiatives in Southeast Asia.
I didn't happen to see you at any of those events, but they were quite
busy and crowded, so perhaps I missed you. Perhaps your own labors on
behalf of a free and open internet were so demanding that they
prevented you from attending. If so, I understand entirely.
I'll be back in Phnom Penh working on the Great Charter for Cambodian
Internet Freedom for a couple of weeks in June--if you can find your
way there, I'd be happy to introduce you to activists who, like me,
believe that Wikipedia Zero is the kind of project that helps citizens
more immediately and pervasively than a commitment to charging for
mobile internet access by the byte.
Fortunately, my heterodoxy on the issue of net neutrality has not
prevented the prominent organizations you mention from continuing to
work with me on issues like NSA reform, copyright and patent reform,
and updating the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act. That
stuff is going to be my major work obligation in April and May. I
guess I'm lucky that the prominence of those organizations has not led
them to being so casually dismissive of me as you have chosen to be.
On Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 8:02 PM, Andreas Kolbe <jayen466(a)gmail.com> wrote:
On Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 12:05 PM, Mike Godwin
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 principle.
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 ...