Report: Google following Facebook down the zero-rate rabbit hole

Google wants to make Android apps free to use overseas, giving more people access to mobile data services in developing markets, according to a new report in The Information. This kind of zero rating, as it is known, is exactly what Facebook does in several countries as part of its initiative. The difference is, the report states, Google wants to exempt Android developers’ services from data charges, not it’s own.

Zero rating is a controversial topic since it could help create a two-sided internet where one company’s services are favored over another’s because they’re cheaper for a consumer to access. [company]T-Mobile[/company] for instance zero-rates dozens of music streaming services, allowing its customers to jam to their hearts’ content without having it count against their data plans. It’s great if you’re one of the companies on the list of exempt apps, but not so great if you’re a new company trying to get noticed.

Oddly, [company]Google[/company] isn’t looking to zero-rate its own apps like Gmail, Maps and Hangouts. Instead it wants to act as a middleman between carriers and app developers that want to foot the cost of their customers’ traffic. Google is talking specifically to ecommerce and on-demand transportation apps in India, using Android software to detect when their apps are accessing the mobile network, The Information reported. [company]AT&T[/company] is striking similar deals with U.S. app developers through its Sponsored Data program.

Zero-rating is pretty common overseas, where carriers often offer unlimited social networking plans to lure customers onto data services. basically codifies those same policies across a group of pre-approved apps. In Europe and the U.S., though, zero-rating is on iffier ground as regulators decide whether it violates net neutrality principles. In the U.S. the FCC has proposed new rules that would allow for zero-rated programs in general but would give the commission ome wiggle room to review specific cases for net neutrality infractions.