Mark Bridge writes:
If I start talking about a ‘tiered internet’ with a differing quality of service depending on the amount a customer pays, you’d probably start thinking about the topic of net neutrality. Yet Orange has plans to treat some of its mobile web traffic differently... and it’s being seen by many as a positive step.
The network operator has announced a partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation to provide more than 70 million Orange customers in Africa and the Middle East with free mobile access to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. If a customer has a compatible phone - which, admittedly, is currently only a relatively small fraction of those 70 million people - they won’t be charged for mobile data usage.
Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said “Wikipedia is an important service, a public good - and so we want people to be able to access it for free, regardless of what device they’re using. This partnership with Orange will enable millions of people to read Wikipedia, who previously couldn’t. We’re thrilled to be Orange’s partner in this important endeavour.”
That’s good news, I’d say. But let me be devil’s advocate for a moment. What if, instead of Wikipedia, an organisation with strong religious or political views had persuaded another mobile operator to provide free access to its content? Or someone with a controversial product, a biased search engine or an anti-social social network? What then?
What happens when customer incentives become the next tier on the internet?
Are we going to legislate against that?