Policy

The open web just quietly died in Britain, and you should be furious

By Oliver Smith 22 August 2017
Summary

This guy's happy, but you shouldn't be.

There’s been a online revolution happening over the past few months – and not the good kind.

The free open web, where all data is equal online, has been gagged, taken to the bottom of the garden, and brutally put out to pasture.

And the whole shebang has been dressed up in so many layers of marketing, that you probably didn’t even notice.

The day the internet died

Sometimes the biggest changes happen in the most mundane ways.

Mobile operators like Three and EE have been launching new mobile plans that don’t count certain apps and services against your data allowance.

Netflix on your Three smartphone? Go wild.

Apple Music on EE? Listen to your heart’s content.

It’s a ‘huge win’ for consumers, with bodacious marketing names like “Go Binge”.

But it’s actually the worst thing to happen to the internet since… well ever, and you should be flipping furious.

The closed web

The open web is a level playing field. Anyone can start the next Facebook or Amazon and compete against these giants, as the most innovative platform tends to succeed (hence why Netflix has risen, despite YouTube’s prior dominance of streaming video).

But in a world where Apple Music has an in-built advantage over your innovative music streaming upstart, like having its data prioritised or not counted by internet providers, it’s a breach of net neutrality and innovation will ultimately suffer.

Read more: What the heck is… net neutrality?

Think of it akin to a high street where McDonald’s is free to visit, but you’re charged for even looking around Burger King.

“These kind of deals are potentially anti-competitive and harmful to innovation,” the Open Rights Group’s lead campaigner Ed Johnson-Williams told The Memo.

“They maintain the status quo by giving an advantage to companies that already have significant market power.”

“In the short term, these deals may seem beneficial for consumers, but in the long term, they could prevent new music or film streaming services from being developed,” he said.

How ‘open’ is open?

Now Three says this isn’t true, because Go Binge is an ‘open platform’, there’s no money involved and any upstart service can apply to have its data zero-rated.

So The Memo applied.

Now we’re an upstart digital service with 47% of our readers arriving on a smartphone and streaming the pictures, videos and articles we publish.

So surely we can join this ‘open platform’?

Surprise, surprise I haven’t had a firm response from Three, despite numerous emails.

I’ve only been told that the “process takes a while longer”, that there has been “lots of interest from potential partners, so it will take time to go through them all” and that we’ll have to wait for their decision.

Three also told The Memo that Go Binge is fully compliant with the law and with regulators like Ofcom and the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (Berec).

Final words

If we sleepwalk into a situation where Netflix and Spotify don’t just have more money and marketshare than anyone else, but also an unfair advantage by the fact that they are free to stream, the hopes of the ‘next Netflix’ being started will start to shrink.

That’s bad news for thousands of upstart challengers in London and around the world, services which have the potential to innovate, but only on a level playing field.

The open internet just quietly died in Britain, and you should be furious, because an open internet is what fostered all the digital services you love.