With all due respect to your longstanding work on internet issues, you said
there were no facts to support an argument that zero-rating one product,
when all others are subject to a consumer charge, suppresses competition.
I pointed out that Lohninger, AccessNow and EFF consider it obvious that
there is such an effect.
You cannot seriously argue that there are "no facts" available to
demonstrate this. It's business studies 101. Competition is driven by cost,
service and quality. Wikipedia's own growth, and the demise of its paid-for
competitors like Encarta, is in large part due to the fact that Wikipedia's
users occurred no cost for accessing it, other than the cost of being
online. Removing that cost in developing markets for Wikipedia, while
imposing it on everyone else aiming to serve the public, is a strategy
aimed at creating a monopoly. Monopolies are ultimately harmful to freedom.
You may call that an opinion, too, but history presents us with a wealth of
evidence demonstrating the truth of that assertion. I presented examples
earlier in this thread of how restricting users to a "Walled Wikipedia" can
do real-world harm. And I agree with Jens when he voices the opinion that
it is hubristic to believe that Wikipedia is the sum of all human
knowledge. At the most basic level, Wikipedia content is always dependent
on sources generated outside Wikipedia itself, whose combined volume dwarfs
Speaking more generally, I would like to see a humbler Wikimedia
Foundation: less in love with its own carefully cultivated image, more
interested in quality, more interested in serving the public than in taking
over the world, more aware, honest and transparent about its projects'
failings. Wikipedia should have nothing to sell, not even itself. It should
just be helpful to the consumer. The degree to which Wikipedia realised
that ideal is what originally attracted me to it. I also believe it is a
wiser long-term strategy for Wikimedia itself.
In your post, Mike, you acknowledge the "heterodoxy" of your position, and
that you haven't been ostracised for it. That's great, but it is important
to remember that yours is a minority view, and that your more "orthodox"
peers aren't participants on this mailing list. Perhaps we should make them
aware of this discussion, and invite them to participate.
On Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 3:06 AM, Mike Godwin <mnemonic(a)gmail.com> wrote:
[Resubmitted with some HTML stuff removed, I hope.]
"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.
Staff Counsel, Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1990-1999
General Counsel, Wikimedia Foundation, 2007-2010
Director and General Counsel, The R Street Institute, 2015-present
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