BlackBerry’s CEO John S. Chen wrote a blog post on net neutrality this week that’s so wrong, it’s funny.
Most of the post is a Wikipedia-like explanation of net neutrality, the concept that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally. It’s adapted from a letter Chen sent to the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, which is looking at net neutrality policy.
But Chen gets really mixed up when he proposes regulators include mobile apps and content in the same bucket as internet traffic. His theory is that apps should be forced to appear on all platforms, regardless of who makes them. For example, he thinks Apple’s iMessage should be on Android and BlackBerry devices, not just the iPhone.
Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems.
This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what net neutrality is. Instead, it’s a desperate plea from a company that completely whiffed on the modern smartphone era.
BlackBerry was slipping long before it launched its modern smartphone operating system, BlackBerry 10, in 2012 — five years after the iPhone was introduced). But the real nail in the coffin was its inability to convince app developers to bring their wares to BlackBerry phones. Without good apps, there was little reason for anyone but the biggest BlackBerry loyalists to buy a BlackBerry phone.
Netflix famously refused to make an app for BlackBerry 10, and just about every other major developer from Instagram to Google followed suit.
Here’s what Chen gets wrong. Net neutrality only protects the traffic over the internet. Advocates of net neutrality believe all traffic should be treated equally and rich companies shouldn’t be allowed to pay for so-called “fast lanes” to users that its competitors can’t afford.
But net neutrality has nothing to do with what kind of apps appear on your phone, and it’s wrong for Chen to even imply that it does. It’s simply not worth a developer’s time, effort, and money to make an app for a platform like BlackBerry 10 that doesn’t even have half a per cent of the global smartphone market.
If BlackBerry wanted developers to pay attention to its platform, it shouldn’t have sat around all those years while Google and Apple ate its lunch. The reason why we have two dominant smartphone platforms is because Apple and Google did it better than anyone else. BlackBerry was over five years late to the game, and proposing that developers should be required to make apps for BlackBerry phones is sad and misguided.
The goal of net neutrality is to make sure content flows freely and equally over the internet, not to make sure a dying platform like BlackBerry with an insignificant number over users gets apps.