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Recently the CEO of BlackBerry, John Chen, wrote a blog post on the topic of net neutrality. In it he defines what he considers to be two different aspects of net neutrality, carrier neutrality and application neutrality, and criticizes policymakers and net neutrality advocates for focusing on so-called carrier neutrality while neglecting to address application neutrality. While carrier neutrality is something we are more familiar with, the idea that ISPs should treat all traffic equally, Chen must explain what he means by application neutrality.

“Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. 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.

Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system.”

What he seems to be pushing for is to legally force developers to make apps for the BlackBerry platform. There is, however, a pretty clear difference between carrier neutrality and application neutrality. For the first, it simply requires that ISPs not treat any data differently based on its source or who is accessing it. It doesn’t actually require any extra work on the part of ISPs to enforce. This idea of application neutrality would actually place a burden on developers to make their app on every platform.

While this idea would be beneficial to BlackBerry, who has been rapidly losing both market share and third-party developer support, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to actually live up to ideal he is proposing. Chen only mentioned BlackBerry, iPhone and Android in his blog post, leaving out Windows, not to mention numerous other OSs that exist throughout the world. Should developers really be forced to make their apps for every single OS in existence, including ones they haven’t even heard of? This would be a requirement for so-called application neutrality.

Does the idea of application neutrality make some kind of sense, or is the whole idea ridiculous? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • Ben Kuyt

    If BlackBerry got bought by Google, the world would likely be a better place.

  • Minty Victor

    I am not sure there is any way to enfore something like application neutrality. It would be incredibly difficult to convince companies and policy makers that “exclusives” are a bad thing.

  • hots

    “That man is eating the food that he earned! Why isn’t it in both our mouths? Discrimination! That should be against the law!”

  • hots

    r u saying u won’t develop Battlefield 7 for my TI-82 graphing calculator?

  • David Fitzsimmons

    I can see where he is coming from in regards to stuff like Netflix, those kinds of applications really should try to be availble on all mobile options. But in regards to just about every thing else… He is being really biased towards only himself. Basically his idea of application nuetrality would also have to extend to gaming and can you imagine a wii game being forced to be made on the other consoles?

  • destroy_all_monsters

    Since you’re not likely up on things Blackberry he’s not talking about forcing devs to do things but to merely stop blocking them. There are many third party apps on Blackberry for most major things – people get to use instagram for example without the actual application using something native because instagram’s devs aren’t actively blocking it. Furthermore Blackberry 10 runs most Android applications but Netflix deliberately blocks the usage of such.

    That’s the point.

    He didn’t mention the other OSes because they’re all in the same boat as Blackberry. He doesn’t need to delineate each and every one of them to make the point. A point I think he made quite clearly. Don’t block users from your services. Cyanogen has to face this from time to time as well.

    I’m sorry Max but this is some pretty skin-deep analysis. I love this site but I expected a bit more background and depth to it.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    It wouldn’t have to extend to gaming though I’d love consoles to die.

    As long as devs don’t block other people from implementing their services it’s a non-issue. All they need to do is not block third party devs from writing apps that work on their services, in most cases access to code isn’t even necessary. Overly relying on Google services, for example, makes it hard to run on Cyanogen or Blackberry 10 or anything else that can use Android applications.

  • dsadsada

    After reading your post, I see it now.

    “All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose”

    The whole of that paragraph is exactly what you’re saying but the keyword that points it out is “access”. One can argue that the companies like Netflix should have the ability to block access from any app that wasn’t specifically made or commissioned by them. I suppose whether that’s right or not is the main topic that Blackberry wants people to discuss.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    Exactly so. No one is asking Netflix or anyone else to give up trade secrets or even provide an sdk or provide third parties with hooks – just not block others from using it or deliberately making it harder to do so.