Beyond Neutrality: How Zero Rating Can (Sometimes) Advance User Choice, Innovation, and Democratic Participation
Over four billion people across the globe cannot afford Internet access. Their economic disadvantages are compounded by their inability to utilize the communicative, educational, and commercial tools that most Internet users take for granted. Enter zero rating. Mobile Internet providers in the developing world now waive the data charges for services like Facebook, Wikipedia, or local job-search sites. Despite zero rating’s apparent benefits, many advocates seek to ban the practice as a violation of net neutrality.
This Article argues that zero rating is defensible by net neutrality’s own normative lights. Network neutrality is not about neutrality for its own sake, but about advancing consumer choice and welfare, innovation in the development of new services, and democratic participation in the public sphere. Analysis of zero rating should accordingly focus on the question of how it impacts these goals: we ought to embrace zero-rating programs that advance net neutrality’s substantive goals and reserve our skepticism for those services that would sacrifice the network’s generative potential to pursue mere short-term gains.
75 Md. L. Rev. 985 (2016)