Blackberry's Crazy Application Neutrality Proposal

January 22, 2015

In politics there is a tradition of injecting non-sequitor ideas into popular movements. It is similar to a search engine optimization technique where you try to get attention by making your idea sound like a thing that others are searching for and interested in. In some cases these points might make sense, for example people that raise the idea that in order to tackle education reform we need to tackle child nutrition. However in this case Blackberry’s proposal does not fit with the principles shared by net neutrality supporters.

The idea behind net neutrality is simple: people who deliver content over the Internet should be on equal footing. They should not be privileged or penalized based on fees that they would have to pay to an ISP. This is important to websites because studies show that the slower a webpage loads the less revenue a company will make. Services like Netflix can have their entire business model threatened if ISPs decide to throttle or kill the ability of their consumers to access it. Net neutrality is pro-consumer because most consumers do not have the option to switch to an ISP that has access to a service if their ISP blocks it. Net neutrality does not require any company to provide its services on all networks, it merely gives them the option to do so.

Application neutrality in contrast would require developers to engage in additional work to provide their apps and content on all mobile operating systems.1 This is bad for start-up companies because it would operate as a de facto tax that would require them to hire developers skilled in each operating system, or to require their current developers to become skilled in obscure technologies. They would also have to hire appropriate support staff and pay for the development tools.2 Alternatively it would restrict their application to being built in purely open standards like HTML5. While these open standards are powerful and people build applications on top of them, they do not always have access to the advanced functionality in modern phones.

The key difference between net neutrality and Blackberry’s proposal is that net neutrality gives innovators access to consumers that they would not have in any other manner, while Blackberry would compel innovators to build applications on its platform against their will. If consumers want to access a certain application or service it is easy for them to acquire another device that the software is available for. They have a remedy in the free market. Depending on where you live that remedy is limited or non-existent for the problem being addressed by net neutrality. Blackberry should spend more of its time building a better operating system and phones than trying to get the government to force developers to write apps for them.

  1. Except the folks at Angry Birds who seem to do this anyways. 

  2. For example it costs $99/year to enroll in the Apple iOS or OS X developer programs. 

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.