Academic evidence on zero rating and net neutrality policy for the EU, 2011-2016

See my full comments to BEREC on zero rating Academic evidence for outcomes on zero rating and net neutrality policy for EU 2011-2016. Special letter for BEREC

26 July 2016

Frode Sørensen, Co-Chair
Ben Wallis, Co-Chair
Net Neutrality Expert Working Group
Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications
Zigfrīda Annas Meierovica bulvāris № 14, 2nd floor
LV-1050 Rīga, Latvia

Re: Academic evidence on outcomes for zero rating and net neutrality policy, EU 2011-2016

Dear Mr. Sørensen and Mr. Wallis:

BEREC has received a record number of comments in its proceeding to create guidelines on net neutrality. A particular set of advocates including SavetheInternet, a number of academics, some start-up advocacies, and even Sir Tim Berners Lee, have made coordinated actions to demand bans on zero rating. Although this follow-up submission is past the official filing deadline, as a fellow academic and researcher who has done extensive international work on this issue, I thought it was important to respond to these recent advocate letters. Moreover I needed to get clearance to share some of my research with you before the official publication date.

In short, there is no evidence that zero rating harms consumers or competition. To the contrary, my research shows that permitting zero rating is beneficial to both consumers and competition. Accordingly, it is important that BEREC maintain a permissive, flexible approach to zero rating.

We all agree on the value of internet and that it would be a terrible thing if startups could not get online. However the question is whether hardening even further the EU’s already strong net neutrality law is necessary. Based on the evidence, clearly it is not.

Zero rating programs have been around for more than a decade, and none of these advocates complained. Given that there’s no concrete evidence that zero rating harms consumers or competition, it’s interesting that zero rating is only in the last two years or so has become an issue. This is because the emergence of mobile broadband brings the potential for a new set of actors to emerge, challenging established players which incidentally are often the ones funding the activists now calling for bans on zero rating.

The hallmark of the telecom regulator is to be at arm’s length from politics. It stakes a higher ground based upon expertise and independence. In recognition of BEREC’s task to craft a set of guidelines to satisfy a divergent group of stakeholders, I offer some insights from my research to inform your inquiry and to help create evidenced-based guidelines. This research has been conducted over the last four years at the Center for Communication Media and Information Technologies at Aalborg University in Copenhagen, Denmark and is supported with a grant by the Danish Innovation Fund. My policy recommendations represent my own views and not necessarily the organizations with which I am affiliated.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of zero-rated offers in the EU today, but all together, they represent less than 1 percent of the offers in the marketplace. It would be a shame to ban them, or to restrict them further, particularly because they are used by small and entrant mobile operators to create price and service competition and to lower costs for consumers. My research demonstrates that EU countries which allow greater freedom for partnerships across the Internet ecosystem enjoy more innovation, but where zero rating has been banned (e.g. Slovenia, Netherlands), local mobile app innovation has declined.

My research suggests that BEREC’s current proposal to review zero rating on a case by case basis with a number of criteria is already heavy-handed, particularly for small and entrant firms which do not have the resources to participate in expensive regulatory and bureaucratic investigations. As such BEREC should limit its review to the relevant economic factors which can be supported by evidence and only intervene where harm has been demonstrated. As such please find the following summary of my research which I am happy to detail with further documentation.

Sincerely,

Roslyn Layton
Ph.D. Fellow
Center for Communication, Media and Information Technologies
Aalborg University
A.C. Meyers Vænge, Frederikskaj 12, 3rd Floor
Copenhagen, Denmark 2450

See my additional comments to BEREC

BEREC Roslyn Layton NN Consultation 18 July 2016