Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Study: Broadband ‘Zero Rating’ Actually Costs Customers More

Karl Bode, Vice:

In more recent years, ISPs have been pushing the idea of zero rating, which involves exempting select content from these arbitrary limits. AT&T, for example, now routinely exempts its own streaming content from its usage caps, yet still penalizes users should they use a competitor like Netflix. Comcast engages in the same behavior on its cable broadband network.

The anticompetitive and free speech issues with letting ISPs determine which services get an unfair advantage on the network should be fairly obvious. But broadband providers have tried to downplay those concerns by claiming that zero rating saves consumers money, and should be seen as akin to a 1-800 number for data or the bandwidth equivalent of free shipping.

Consumers, who often don’t understand that broadband usage caps are bogus cash grabs in the first place, often buy into the argument that they’re getting something for free by being allowed to bypass them.

But a new multi-year study by the non-profit Epicenter.works challenges those assumptions. The study, which took a look at wireless data prices in 30 European Union nations, found that the cost of wireless data plans were notably more expensive in countries that allowed zero rating as opposed to those that have prohibited the practice.

This study ought to be taken seriously around the world, but particularly in the United States where the FCC has gutted net neutrality legislation. Broadband should be treated as the utility it is, especially since telecommunications companies have morphed into vertically-integrated media conglomerates. The combination of a lack of antitrust enforcement and no net neutrality rules has created opportunities for abuse, price gouging, and increasingly siloed behaviour.