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MMTC: Free Data Is Pro Diversity

Don't look an online video and data gift horse in the mouth.

That is the message from the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council. The group's focus is on media diversity and it says the FCC's investigation on mobile broadband zero-based plans is a threat to another kind of diversity--pricing, though it says the two are related.

In a new white paper extolling the economic virtues of zero-based pricing--carving out some online services, like video streaming, from a customer's data usage--MMTC says: "Those opposed to providing consumers with more control over their data consumption and more diverse pricing options fear that zero-rated services will instead deliver to users an incomplete online experience. But as discussed at length in this paper, these views ultimately overlook and dismiss the benefits of free data."

Basically the argument is "Free stuff is good," from fast-food meal deals to free shipping and BOGO (buy one, get one) offers.

The paper was released Monday (May 9) as, according to one commissioner, a couple of FCC bureaus continue to examine the practice for potential anticompetitive effects under the FCC's Open Internet general conduct standard.

MMTC argues that zero rating can help close the digital divide by addressing the a key impediment of cost, which the FCC definitely recognizes given its move to migrate the low-income Lifeline broadband subsidy to broadband and it its low-income broadband buildout condition on the Charter/TWC deal.

MMTC counts the ways in which zero-rating plans are pro-minority consumers, and other consumers for that matter, calling them "fluid, responsive to consumer demand, optional, and, unlike many other online offerings, they do not rely on targeted ads to pay for the data."

MMTC warned policymakers not to dismiss the "very real" benefits of the business model out of hand.

The white paper is premised on the assertion that there is intense competition among device, content and network providers and that while the "intellectual elite" can afford to "intellectualize" that value, for communities of color it means an "affordable connection to the future."

The white paper was internally funded and produced.