In what could be called as a new turn for the net neutrality issue, UK’s Virgin Media has decided to offer a zero-rated access to the popular apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. This means that using these apps will not eat up the customers’ data allowance. The announcement came as a part of the company’s 4G launch in the country.
Also, Virgin Media has announced that the data left in a subscriber’s account will be carried over to the next month.
Commenting on the 4G roll out, Virgin Media’s managing director of mobile Peter Kelly said, “Virgin Media’s new mobile plans are fast, flexible and filled with data. By offering free messaging on WhatsApp and Messenger, we’re making sure that Virgin Media customers never have to worry about messaging friends or family, and if there’s data left over at the end of the month then we’ve got that covered too. With 4G, our customers have a quicker way to browse, message, stream and play wherever they are.”
The new 4G connections would start at £6 ($7.45) a month. It is £25 ($31) a month for 5,000 minutes, unlimited texts and 20GB of data.
About Virgin Media’s new net neutrality stand, the guidelines enforced by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) support zero-rating schemes only after careful scrutiny of the circumstances, mainly assessing the potential damage to competitiveness in the market.
In this case, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are two popular apps used by the people. According to a data released by Ofcom, around 44% of the mobile customers use instant messaging services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The scheme, although seems beneficial for the customers, can stifle the competition by prioritizing both these apps above other small alternatives.
BEREC is yet to comment on Virgin Media’s new 4G plans.
According to a spokesperson for Virgin Media, “Neither the EU net neutrality regulations nor the subsequent BEREC guidelines prohibit the zero rating of services. This offer does not result in any blocking or throttling of content, and there is no prioritization of WhatsApp or Messenger traffic.”
“The UK has many competing messaging platforms and mobile operators, some of which already have zero rating agreements in place. Furthermore, Virgin Media is very much open to including other messaging platforms in the offer,” he added.
Virgin Media has around 3 million subscribers by the end of September. EE is the first company to introduce 4G network to the UK in the year 2012. O2 and Vodafone launched 4G technology in 2013.