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.
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.