BlackBerry CEO John Chen has published an open letter to US president Obama on net neutrality. Interestingly enough, he conflates net neutrality with what he calls “content/application neutrality”. At the beginning of the letter it’s a bit unclear what he means by this, but later one, all pieces of his puzzle fall into place.
Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.
Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system.
I’m not entirely sure what to say about this. While I would personally welcome a world where companies are multi-platform by nature, it is completely preposterous to legally force them to do so. I could somewhat understand (but still oppose) a call for using open standards so third parties could e.g. create their own Hangouts, WhatsApp, iMessage, or Skype clients, but legally forcing companies to create applications for competing platforms? That’s insane.
Except for those with an agenda, we would all love to live in a world where companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft use nothing but open standards and protocols, creating a level playing field for newcomers and small players. However, unless the closed nature of a protocol harms consumers, companies should be free to be as closed as they very well please.