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Virgin Mobile 4G Plans Now Allow Free Zero Rated Data Use on Twitter

Monday, July 10th, 2017 (1:12 pm) - Score 1,370

Last week we saw mobile operator Three UK introduce free video streaming (i.e. it won’t eat into your Mobile Broadband data allowance) on their 4G Mobile plans (here) and this week Virgin Media have joined the fun by adding data-free use of Twitter to their own plans. But what of Net Neutrality?

It’s worth pointing out that Virgin Mobile already offer data-free use of both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as part of their 4G plans and so the addition of Twitter isn’t a huge leap. Likewise Twitter will only reflect a very small amount of data usage for most people and so it’s unlikely to strain the operator’s network.

As usual there do appear to be a few caveats (isn’t that always the way). The announcement suggests that data-free use of Twitter may only apply to the App and EXCLUDES live video content. This makes sense because video streaming would add a much bigger load to their network.

Jeff Dodds, Managing Director of Mobile at Virgin Media, said:

“Our customers want more than extra texts and minutes – they want innovative new services that really make a difference to them. We want to focus our services towards how our customers use their devices and live their lives, giving them value that they can see and understand.

That’s why we’ve expanded our data-free social offering to include Twitter which, when combined with fast 4G and data rollover, is transforming the future of social messaging on mobile and ensuring our customers never have to worry about keeping connected to the things and people they love.”

The new promotion may however raise a few questions over Virgin Mobile’s impact on the UK’s self-regulatory Net Neutrality policy, although we suspect that this may be less of a concern for Ofcom due to the fact that Twitter isn’t a huge data hog and Virgin themselves are not a massive mobile operator. Indeed we think that Ofcom’s recent annual report into the issue may have already given them a pass.

The UK’s approach to this issue means that broadband ISPs and Mobile Network Operators (MNO) cannot impose excessive restrictions against Internet traffic (i.e. no serious blocking or slowing of access to legal websites or Internet services, with a few exceptions for issues of security etc.).

Ofcom’s June 2017 Net Neutrality Report

Online messaging services zero-rating product

In November 2016, an operator launched a 4G mobile product including zero-rated use of certain messaging services. We considered a number of factors in assessing the need for formal investigation into the product’s compliance with the Regulation, particularly:

* While the market position of the CAPs is strong, the market position of the ISP is not. The operator’s market share in mobile services is small and the offer is limited to customers contracting for a 4G service.

* The data caps for the zero-rated IAS range from 300 MB to 20 GB per month. However, the volume of data arising from use of the messaging services – that which is “zero-rated” – makes up only a small proportion of even the lowest of these caps. (The more data-intensive voice and video calling functions are not zero-rated.) This suggests that the incentives on users to avoid alternative messaging services will be limited in their effect.

* Finally, we understand from the operator that they are seeking to add new messaging providers to the zero-rating product.

* These factors led us to conclude that the product would be unlikely to have a significant impact on end user rights or on innovation in the online services market. We have therefore not opened a formal investigation into the product.

Virgin Mobile notes that, since launching 4G at the end of 2016, their customers are taking advantage of faster speeds and using more data, with 87,000 of them accessing Twitter on a daily basis and 800,000 accessing Twitter each month; that’s nothing terribly big to worry about.

Throughout July Virgin Mobile are also offering quadruple data on selected 4G plans for its customers to enjoy.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar AndyC says:

    all these messageing services use next to nothing data wise anyway, mind you the free allowance only applys to the text based messageing, video calls are not included (or so it says in the letter i got).

    Can we have free youtube instead even if its only 480p?

  2. Avatar G. Lee says:

    Not really a good comparison when Three’s offering free unlimted streaming of various music and video services on its network….

  3. Avatar James Harkin says:

    I agree. Prioritizing data is against net neutrality and as such, I am not in favour. Especially if this becomes the norm. Those mega corporations will get priority over smaller competitors just because they can do deals with major ISPs.

  4. Avatar nucco says:

    It’s hard to explain to people why this is a bad idea for internet.

    They should be raising the overall usage allowance instead of picking services to discount.

  5. Avatar MikeHunt says:

    Three already offers unlimited data so this really aimed at poor people.

    I suspect since Three uses video compression that if this experiment works they will expand it further.

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