Net Neutrality

BlackBerry Wants Net Neutrality Protection – That's Just Sad

BlackBerry, which frittered away the smartphone market it helped create, is now hoping the US government will pass a law keeping it in business.

In a blog post Wednesday, CEO John Chen says he thinks net neutrality is just swell. He likes it so much that he wants to extend the principle to include "Application/Content Neutrality." He wants to require application developers to write software for BlackBerry when they're writing for other platforms.

Chen adapted the blog from a letter sent Wednesday to key US Representatives.

I'll put aside the issue of a non-American -- a Canadian! -- commenting on US affairs. Canada is an excellent country. As science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote about Vancouver -- and by extension, all of Canada -- it's a "part of the United States where the people were so clever that they never paid taxes to Washington." And it's not like we Americans are shy about butting our noses into other countries' affairs. (Note to our friends in Canada: Any activity performed on ice skates isn't a real sport.)

Chen's proposal is screwy, but it is so monumentally out of whack with reality that it's difficult to articulate what doesn't make sense about it. Crazy ideas are like that. If someone says to you that proprietary networking is better than SDN, you can have a nice little discussion about the relative merits of the two approaches. But if someone says both proprietary networks and SDN are inferior to letting photons be carried by elves, you're just left sputtering and blurting, "No. Just... no."

Chen's proposal has a similar, difficult-to-refute elvish insanity to it. Here's why it doesn't make sense.

Chen is looking at net neutrality from the wrong perspective. Net neutrality is not designed to protect businesses. It's designed to protect the customer.

Sure, net neutrality is often discussed as a way to protect innovative startups from being squashed by the cable/telco duopoly. (And BlackBerry, by the way, is no innovative startup; it's a 31-year-old company whose latest brainstorm was the BlackBerry Classic, the major selling point of which is that it's just like BlackBerry's last good product from years ago.)

What's really at stake with net neutrality isn't protecting startups and other businesses. Net neutrality is intended to protect customers, by allowing them to have access to those startups' services, and preventing Internet providers from setting up roadblocks to those services.

Nobody's blocking customers from buying BlackBerry products. People just don't want them. Adding more apps to the BlackBerry platform will make it less unattractive. But it'll still be unattractive.

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Moreover, mandating app developers write for an additional platform will create additional cost for developers. It will likely put small, indie developers out of business.

BlackBerry is just going to have to compete by offering compelling products and services, rather than legal decrees. If it can.

Why do you think Chen's proposal is crazy? Or do you actually think it makes sense? Let us know.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected]

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briansoloducha 1/28/2015 | 5:08:32 PM
Re: Crazy Am I seriously the first person here to point out the hypocrisy here?

You want Blackberry to suffer free-market conditions without a government mandate, but you also want government-mandated net neutrality so that OTHER companies don't have to suffer from those very-same free-market conditions? Are you serious?


Mitch Wagner 1/26/2015 | 6:37:18 PM
Re: Crazy dwx - Funny you should mention that. Microsoft brought Office to the Mac 15 years ago in part to get antitrust prosecutors off its back. Didn't work.
dwx 1/25/2015 | 8:10:27 PM
Re: Crazy When I first read it I couldn't really believe what I reading.  I'm surprised they didn't take the blog post down.   The argument that "we make programs for your platform so you have to make them for ours" is completely ludicrous.  It would be like saying Apple has to start making apps for Windows PCs.  
nasimson 1/25/2015 | 4:20:42 PM
Laughing all the way !!! Mitch

This blog of yours was a good weekend-ending read. I'll think of it & smile all week in office. THIS is North America. Cant believe it he approved it & actually sent it. Speaks volumes of how disconnected the BB top management is.

I really hope the BB CEO gets to read it!
brooks7 1/23/2015 | 11:35:30 PM
Re: Crazy I live in California where there is no rule against muni networks and we have only a few.  I would say natural monopoly.

Let's use California as an example.  38M people or so, which means 7M or so homes.   A 3rd competitor in a market tends to say 10% market share.  Call it an investment of $7B (1,000 per home passed - all in - and that is cheap) to get that 700K sub base.

The best part is that the only basis anybody wants these guys to compete on is pure price.  That means I get to spend that $7B and realistically I can't get my money back because my competitors will just match my pricing.


KBode 1/23/2015 | 3:23:13 PM
Re: Crazy I've seen it argued both ways, but I tend to believe the former. These are companies with a generation of literally writing state telecom laws under their belts. Look at the issues surrounding state laws outlowing municipal broadband, for example, where open access could actually open up the market to broader competition but can't because we're letting these companies write the law.

In THIS case, I think the bigger wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon) are using Blackberry to conflate issues as part of a larger assault on potential Title II based neutrality rules. Muddy the waters, so to speak.
Mitch Wagner 1/23/2015 | 3:10:42 PM
Re: Crazy Is the duopoly a result of regulatory capture, or is Internet service a natural monopoly, like electricity?
KBode 1/23/2015 | 3:08:36 PM
Re: Crazy Yes, we've effectively got a duopoly (sometimes worse in many markets) courtesy of regulatory capture, so it's a very chicken and egg scenario. But going "hands off" in the broadband market would result in competition never improving, so...
DHagar 1/23/2015 | 2:01:38 PM
Re: Another perspective MitchWagner, agreed.  A weak competitor with a huge ulterior MO.
DHagar 1/23/2015 | 1:54:18 PM
Re: Crazy MitchWagner, got it.  Isn't that because it is new and the big carriers have been the only ones that could invest?  If there is more business opportunity and/or stimulus to get into that market there can be a true marketplace.  What do you think are the missing elements that can be added to truly advance a robust competitive market?   The government used a "light touch" in the development of the internet itself - which worked.  Wouldn't that same touch work here?

Re:  Washington - maybe that's what they need - more sunshine.

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