Twitter: Sponsored access not against net neutrality

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The offer of free access to Twitter by telecoms operators – so-called sponsored access – is not against the network neutrality rule established in Brazil's civil Internet bill, according to the understanding of Twitter officials.

"We are in full compliance with the current legislation. Lawmakers already said free access is not against neutrality," Daniel Carvalho, director of business development for Latin America, said at the opening of Twitter's new São Paulo installations.

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Unlike what Carvalho said, however, there is far from a consensus on the issue among legislators.

Net neutrality is the concept according to which no traffic or content on the Internet should be discriminated against or given privileged status over others – all traffic should be treated equally.

According to critics of "free access" or "sponsored data," granting users open access to a given service means benefitting that service over others. Defenders, on the other hand, argue it is a commercial deal in a win-win situation that promotes digital inclusion and encourages data consumption.

Brazil enshrined net neutrality in its landmark Internet "constitution" approved in April. In Latin America, Chile has also passed a net neutrality law and is facing the same discussions regarding sponsored access, while Mexico is still discussing the issue. Recently, President Barack Obama asked US telecoms authorities to endorse neutrality.

Nevertheless, the wording of the civil Internet bill left the door open to different interpretations regarding what can be considered an infringement of neutrality by allowing "freedom of business models promoted on the Internet."

Furthermore, exceptions allowed to network neutrality have yet to be regulated, following consultations with Brazil's Internet steering committee and telecoms watchdog Anatel.

In Brazil, Oi and Claro offer users free of charge access to Twitter. TIM used to, but the deal was terminated, while Vivo was not interested.

Carvalho insists Twitter pays nothing to operators for the free access and said the company will comply with the legislation in the event such deals come to be understood as a breach of neutrality. Finally, he said these deals were a "win-win" model "in benefit of the user."

At the time of the signing of the Internet bill, telcos association SindiTelebrasil praised the law as it allowed "packages such as free access to social networks to be offered" and for the "freedom to innovate and create new business models."

On the other hand, digital rights lawyers say free access is not in accordance with what the network neutrality law provides, while the bill's author says such deals need to be further examined.