In this unfortunate era of fake news I’ve made it a daily habit to visit Snopes. In a more innocent time one might go there to fact-check an urban myth; these days the site’s scope has expanded to include other types of misinformation, like misleading tweets from members of Congress.
This past October 26th Representative Ro Khanna of California tweeted a screen grab of the Portuguese carrier MEO, presenting it as the dystopian future that awaits an America without net neutrality protections. His heart’s in the right place, but according to Snopes that’s not what’s actually going on here.
Hey, not everybody speaks Portuguese, right?
So, first of all, as a member of the European Union, Portugal enjoys net neutrality protections set by the EU regulator BEREC. What we’re actually looking at in this MEO screen shot is a selection of zero-rated data bundles—apps and services that, for an additional fee, won’t be subject to the user’s monthly data cap. The idea, if not the execution, is similar to T-Mobile’s Binge On.
In the EU, as in Canada, zero-rated data offerings come under scrutiny if they are suspected of disadvantaging similar services. For example, Bell Canada’s mobile TV offering was disallowed by our CRTC because it was not subject to data caps, and was therefore anti-competitive against other video services, like Netflix and YouTube, that were.
It’s difficult to pitch zero-rated data as a net neutrality issue because everybody wants free stuff—or, in the case of MEO subscribers, unlimited access to the services they use most. But don’t be fooled by tweets; Portugal does have a zero-rated data problem, but also strong net neutrality protections.