Blackberry CEO John Chen appears to be turning to the US government for help in broadening the app ecosystem for the struggling Canadian handset, as well as railing against a US-centric view of net neutrality and possible Title II regulation at the same time. In a blog post taken in part from a letter the CEO wrote to members of Congress, Chen defines not only what he sees as an ideal path for net neutrality, but also complaining about a "two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem" where content providers like Apple and Netflix are free to not develop for all wireless platforms.
Despite being the CEO of a Canadian company and having little, if any, say in the debate, Chen writes
that US policymakers "should focus on more than just the carriers, who play only one role in the overall broadband Internet ecosystem." He also writes that US lawmakers should "demand openness not just at the traffic/transport layer, but also at the content/applications layer of the ecosystem."
Title II regulation of broadband would apply regulation to ISPs similar to that of utilities, such as water and power. While the ISPs and some governmental supporters believe the FCC may not have this power, if implemented, US broadband access would be more tightly monitored for abuses, predatory pricing, and other anti-consumer measures. Additionally, the ISPs would be subject to independent ombudsmen deciding if the companies were taking advantage of their power over consumers.
and large Internet Service Providers
decry the possibility of Title II legislation. AT&T has written that "going backwards 80 years to the world of utility regulation would represent a tragic step in the wrong direction. Utility regulation would strangle investment, hobble innovation, and put government regulators in charge of nearly every aspect of Internet-based services," but has not offered any concrete evidence that such regulation would actually harm consumers compared to the status quo. Sprint disagrees
, and doesn't feel that Title II would cause any real harm to the wireless ecosystem.
Blackberry, like AT&T and most of the rest of the carriers, believe that Title II regulation is overkill. Forgetting that a lawsuit from Verizon
about terms it agreed to as part of the broadband auction of 2008 launched the whole debate, Chen writes that existing regulations spelled out under 47 CFR §27.16
formed to regulate that auction is the way to go, as Verizon "has lived under those rules ever since."
Chen points to BlackBerry Messenger as the ideal example of net neutrality for content providers. "Tens of millions of iPhone and Android customers around the world have since downloaded BBM, and are enjoying the service free of charge," says Chen. He points to Apple and Netflix as discriminating against BlackBerry customers for not in return making iMessage and Netflix streaming available, respectively.
Chen complains that "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."
It is unclear what exactly Chen is looking for, or how far it would extend. Chen is seemingly advocating for cross-platform development as a mandated standard, which would put a massive burden on most developers that don't have the resources that Apple or Netflix does. Netflix has chosen to not develop its app for BlackBerry, and said so in 2013
, without giving a concrete reason. The likeliest reason for the absence would be the small market share of BlackBerry devices in Netflix's target market.
Chen's suggestion could theoretically be implemented with HTML5. However, the burden of making a platform attractive to developers is up to hardware manufacturers (which BlackBerry continues to fail to do so), while critics say it shouldn't be left to legislators. When Apple was on the losing side of developer's labor, it didn't turn to legislation to demand that developers code for its particular OS, but took steps to build marketshare, and make development less of a zero-sum equation.
Regardless of Chen's self-serving want for wireless platform agnosticism, MacNN and Electronista believe
that there is a clear case for government oversight of the biggest tier of the ISP industry, for broadband in particular, but also for cellular. In many cases these companies are one and the same. However, like President Obama, we do not endorse wholesale application of the entire Title II mantle on providers, nor do we endorse strong regulation of smaller providers -- as both are not wholly without valid arguments about the costs of bandwidth expansion, and how best to bear the costs thereof.