BlackBerry’s interpretation of net neutrality would force developers to build apps for its phones

Should net neutrality also mean app neutrality?
Should net neutrality also mean app neutrality?
Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
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BlackBerry certainly has an interesting interpretation of net neutrality.

In a letter sent to US congressional representatives, John Chen, CEO of the Canadian phone maker, lays out arguments for why net neutrality should extend beyond broadband carriers and apply to content and app providers. Or in other words: The Federal Communications Commission should mandate that developers build applications for Blackberry’s platform, too.

His reasoning: BlackBerry, ever the martyr, opened up its popular BlackBerry Messenger service in 2013 to Android and iOS devices (a move many decried as coming a little too late). “Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality,” Chen wrote in a company blog post adapted from his letter. Apple, for example, still restricts iMessage to its devices. And Netflix flat-out refuses to build an app for BlackBerry, even as the streaming video company advocates for net neutrality as it applies to internet service providers.

This, Chen reasons, is discrimination (emphasis his):

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. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.

By his logic, developers should also be forced to build for Windows, Firefox, Ubuntu, and other alternative mobile operating systems. Companies established entirely on one platform would have to reevaluate their business models as well—like the drawing app Paper by FiftyThree, which is only on iOS, or Aviate, the Android home screen-organizing app Yahoo acquired last year.

BlackBerry is certainly suffering from a lack of apps—and many of the existing ones are considered spammy and terrible—but it must also realize that its proposal for app neutrality would be difficult to enforce and onerous for developers.

It’s perhaps understandable that BlackBerry is having a hard time accepting the fact that app companies are choosing not to build for its platform, but it won’t win any friends by strong-arming developers.