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Caribbean creatives can benefit from zero rating services

Posted October 13th, 2016 in Broadband, capital, content providers, data plans and tagged , , , by Alton Drew

As a native of the Caribbean, my attention has been turning toward global trade in telecommunications markets, primarily between the United States and the Caribbean. While I have a bias toward the English-speaking nations in the Eastern Caribbean having family in that sub-region, and I was born and raised in St.Thomas, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have love for the Spanish, French, and Dutch speaking islands. I just haven’t learned the languages yet. So, paciente, por favor.

Caribbean Export recently published an outlook on Caribbean trade in 2016 and 2017. It takes $500,000 to $2,000,000 for an artist to break into mainstream music markets. Population sizes on smaller island nations force Caribbean music artists to attempt expansion into North American, Asian, and European markets. The survey points out that online streaming is one approach used by artists to sell back catalogs and new music, with 25% of revenues accounted for online. According to Caribbean Export:

“The move to online consumption of music has some significant benefits for emerging artistes.  Online streaming and sales allow the artiste to understand what types of music and artistes are popular in which markets.  This can demonstrate which market may be most relevant for them to target with their music … The Information Technology revolution of the 1990s and the advent of social media have presented a wider reach to artistes today than has ever been possible.  In the age of the Internet, success is possible where an artiste with a quality product can inspire people to share their product, thereby creating millions of impressions. In other words, the sheer accessibility provided by the Internet means that an artiste can release content directly to a global audience, but it is important to stand out.”

The global Caribbean Diaspora numbers approximately 10.7 million with four million of those immigrants living in the United States. Mobile broadband, online streaming and social media can get an artist’s content in front of this audience quickly as discussed before. I believe what can also help is a free data approach combined with other strategic partnership initiatives. For example, where a carrier like Verizon can offer free access to a Caribbean artist website without a subscriber incurring a charge against their data cap, the consumer enjoys the benefit of exposure to new music which may lead to additional sales for the artist. The subscriber is also incentivized to explore other offerings via her smartphones, offerings she hopefully will be willing to pay for.

Another benefit from this type of global trade is the creation of demand for more infrastructure deployment. Increased content and new content delivery systems will need additional fixed line and wireless platforms to run on.

The Caribbean Diaspora should look at advocating for and investing in the development of online streaming for Caribbean artists as a type of remittance program. Greater support for these artists results in greater revenues eventually returning to our homelands with the benefits of infrastructure development both in the Caribbean and here in the United States.

 

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Any regulation of zero rating is unnecessary market interference

Members of the wireless industry got together yesterday in Washington, D.C. to debate what the Federal Communications Commission’s next move on zero rating ought not to be. Inside Sources reported that the wireless confab included T-Mobile, Verizon, Facebook, and other parties. Zero rating allows wireless services subscribers to access certain content providers without that access being charged against the consumer’s data plan. T-Mobile’s “Binge-On” service is a recently deployed example of this type of service.

Pro-net neutrality groups like Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation believe that zero rating violates the Commission’s open internet order by throttling data streams while favoring certain content providers over other providers.  For example, under 47 CFR 8.7, a person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service shall not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, application or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management.

One issue will be whether a service like “Binge-On” actually throttles traffic pursuant to this rule. The Commission so far has opted to a light touch approach to zero rating-type services, which wireless carriers have likened to 800-number services where the 800-number customer or its telephone service provider ate the cost of a long distance call from a customer. The Commission should find that there is no throttling because treatment of data traffic will be the same for all content providers, whether access to their content is done via “Binge-On” or not. The Commission’s political constraints go beyond the letter of their rules.

The Commission has been fervent about its clear and fair “rules of the road”; that all traffic be treated equally, that it may not want to rock the boat with the pro-net neutrality posse or their alleged four million post-card writing supporters. There is a chance that the Commission may opt for the safety of saying no to “Binge-On” with the claim that its best to err on the side of caution and avoid having its net neutrality rules go sliding down a slippery slope.

A call against “Binge-On” and other zero rating services is a strike against investor interests especially for investors in smaller carriers like T-Mobile. If T-Mobile is to acquire more market share it will do so with bolder offerings like “Binge-On.” The service appears to be an effective way for promoting the company’s other offerings, so much so that T-Mobile is finding that some customers, having had free access to participating websites are opting for additional and more expensive service. If there is an opportunity for government to show how anti-investor some policies can be, treating zero rating as anti-net neutrality would be one of them.

Will the FCC be naughty or nice when it comes to sponsored data

The Federal Communications Commission wants to determine if broadband access providers such as T-Mobile, AT&T, and Comcast, are complying with the Commission’s net neutrality rules. A report in Reuters stated the following:

“As you may be aware, concerns have been expressed about these programs, for example, some have argued that sponsored data unfairly advantages incumbent content providers,” the letter to AT&T said. “We want to ensure that we have all the facts to understand how these services relate to the commission’s goal of maintaining a free and open Internet while incentivizing innovation and investment from all sources.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hasn’t posted any official statements on the Commission’s request for a January 15, 2016 meeting with AT&T, Comcast, or T-Mobile. Nor are there any docketed items addressing the matter of sponsored programs or other initiatives that allow consumers to use streaming or other data services while avoiding the application of this usage toward their data plans.

The Commission’s net neutrality rules do not speak specifically to a “1-800-number” approach to providing broadband access. The section of the rule that comes closest to addressing the concerns that sponsored data unfairly advantages incumbent broadband access providers is section 47 CFR 8.11.  This section reads:

“Any person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage end users’ ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of their choice, or edge providers’ ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users. Reasonable network management shall not be considered a violation of this rule.”

A broadband access provider interfering with an end-user’s ability to select or access a competitor’s broadband access service or lawful content is not at issue here. Edge providers are arguing that they won’t be able to get their content in front of consumer eyeballs if larger content providers can leverage their content by offering it at a discount when they decide not to apply the data used against a data plan cap.

We can’t say whether there is a definitive political risk to the telecommunications sector since the Commission has yet to take any formal action. The “sit down” with broadband access providers is not for another three weeks and speculation at this point would be built on shaky ground.