In the midst of Wednesday's maelstrom of Windows 10 news, BlackBerry CEO John Chen has published an open letter to the US Senate, in which he sets out BlackBerry's position on net neutrality. It starts off well enough, identifying the core of net neutrality as the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally and service providers shouldn't be allowed to create discriminatory fast and slow lanes, however Chen finds that basic definition inadequate. In his view, it's not enough to demand non-discrimination in just the transport of data; the applications and services that serve up that data must be "neutral" as well. That is to say, we can't have proper net neutrality so long as Apple refuses to offer iMessage for BlackBerry and Netflix fails to provide its streaming service to BlackBerry users.
"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."
Are we being trolled?
Chen's freestyling redefinition of neutrality equates two highly distinct industries and conflates a whole bunch of issues into a specious, and utterly warped, argument. As he rightly puts it, internet service providers are "like the railways of the last century, building the tracks to carry traffic to all points throughout the country" and apps are "the railway cars travelling on those tracks." But asking for neutral tracks simply means non-intervention on the part of the carriers, whereas trying to achieve neutral railway cars would require app developers to code their apps multiple times over to cover every mobile OS out there.
Carrier neutrality is both achievable and necessary. Fast and reliable internet connections are a necessary public service, one that an ever-increasing number of people and companies are relying on to do their work. iMessage, Netflix, and any other app that BlackBerry's inchoate mobile platform is currently lacking do not, as a group, constitute an equivalent economic need. If BlackBerry wants those services running on its phones, its best strategy would be to make a better OS, which would attract more users and thus more developers.
The BlackBerry CEO appears utterly convinced, however, that an open internet requires all apps be made available on all platforms and concludes with the following prescription:
"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."