Why the Portuguese argument for Net Neutrality doesn't work

There is a claim floating around the Web, claiming several plans offered by a Portuguese phone company will come to America because of the repeal of Net Neutrality. California Congressman Ro Khanna appears to be one of the first people to push this idea, tweeting it out in October.

The problem with Khanna’s claim is it’s not true. The Verge’s Adi Robertson, who is a Net Neutrality supporter, pointed out Khanna’s error.

(T)his doesn’t look like buying cable channels for the internet. It’s an add-on to general-purpose mobile subscriptions, which let you access any service — including the ones above. The idea is apparently that if you’re into apps like Snapchat and Facebook (or… LinkedIn, I guess), you pay around $8 a month to specifically get more “Social” data, so you can use your regular allotment for everything else. It looks a lot like the “Vodafone Pass” service in the UK, where subscribers can pay for unlimited access to a similar stable of services.

I reached out to Meo on what exactly their SmartNet offering entailed. Here’s their response (emphasis original):

“MEO complies with the European regulation on net neutrality and there is no distortion of the market caused by its commercial offers. Access and use of any application or service on the Internet is permitted by all MEO Internet access offers, and it is not necessary to adhere to specific packages in order to enjoy certain applications.

The SmartNet offerings correspond only to additional traffic ceilings for certain thematic sets of applications that are no more than the reflection of Portuguese consumer preferences. These offers are beneficial to consumers since it allows them to further customize the packages according to their consumption profiles. MEO is proud to have been a pioneer in launching this type of offer in Portugal, with multiple examples of similar offerings in other countries such as Spain, Germany and Belgium.”

So Khanna either doesn’t understand Meo’s SmartNet is an extra service which could save customers more money, or didn’t bother trying to figure out what it meant to serve his own purposes. It should also be pointed out these offerings have nothing to do with Internet access from a computer, but from a mobile phone or tablet. Their top data plan is 30GB. AT&T starts data throttling at 21GB, for what it’s worth, even with their “unlimited” data. Verizon has their own version of data throttling, as does Sprint. These are with net neutrality, for the record.

But this doesn’t mean the telecom companies will start throttling even more data, now that net neutrality may be on its way out. The key factor is actually the consumer. Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc. should be focused on providing customers the best service possible, trying to bring in more customers, and making money. It means they’re supposed to be competing against each other for your business and others. They’ll go out of business, if they don’t succeed.

There’s also the proliferation of WiFi across the U.S. I’m currently writing this piece via WiFi at a cigar store, while the person next to me watches Netflix’s The Punisher series, and a third person surfs the web. None of us are using our cell phone data plan, but are connected to whatever ISP the provider decides to pay for. So we’re saving money, and it gives the cigar shop owner the chance to get more of our money the longer we stay in the shop. Basic free market principles.

The third part is probably the most important: media scrutiny. The Verge, TechDirt, Wired, Ars Technica, Mashable, etc. do an excellent job at keeping their watchful eyes over the telecom industry. They’ll point out when it appears one of the “big boys” are doing something which may be against their customers’ best interest, which forces the companies to respond and possibly change their procedures. The public knows about data throttling because the media brought it to light. It’s a lot easier holding individual companies responsible for their actions, than it is government bureaucrats. The VA has been roundly criticized for how they treated vets, yet no real changes have been made. The TSA has been criticized for groping people, yet the “blue gloves of freedom” still exist. NSA spying is still “a thing,” even if some data collection was halted.

I understand why there are people wondering what happens next, with the potential repeal of Net Neutrality. But if you’re going to complain about it, especially if you’re an elected official, don’t pass misinformation out about it. It just makes you look bad.