(Source: Frugal Cafe)
Chen argues that major app developers should be forced to provide solutions for all platforms, in the spirit of "openness"

BlackBerry, Ltd. (TSE:BB) has been in the news a lot lately regarding reignited interest as an acquisition target.  The Canadian phonemaker has seen a mild resurgence, thanks to new CEO John S. Chen, an expert in corporate turnarounds. Under Chen's lead BB has downsized, trimming its losses. At the same time it's gotten back to its roots in device design, with the recent BlackBerry Classic seeing mild sales success.

I. A Delusional Redefinition of Net Neutrality

That said, there's Chen just authored a rather curious and questionable blog on the topic of net neutrality.  Of course all business executives engage in a degree of self-aggrandizement regarding their firm.  But when you're heading a struggling business, there's a fine line between optimism and insanity when it comes to self-important statements.

Typically Chen avoids that kind of dangerous logic, and has been brutally self-aware of his company's struggles, if anything.  However, in this case his assertions are so outlandish that they lead the neutral observer to wonder if Chen could perhaps be regressing into the kind of delusions of grandeur that afflicted his predecessor Thorsten Heins.

John S. Chen
John S. Chen appears to be drinking his own Koolaid. [Image Source: Sybase/SAP]

In his statement he claims that Netflix Inc.'s (NFLX) vocal support of net neutrality is bogus, as it hasn't finished an app client for BlackBerry 10 yet.  He also calls out Apple, Inc. (AAPL) who he says is violating net neutrality by not porting iMessage to BlackBerry or Android.

Ultimately he seems to acknowledge that he's redefining net neutrality.  Typically net neutrality involves efforts to prohibit telecoms from artificially throttling or slowing data network traffic from non-favored parties.  Such tactics are often referred to as "data discrimination".

Net Neutrality
When most people say "net neutrality" they mean something very specific -- throttling cable internet or cellular traffic. [Image Source: Getty Images]

Chen argues on a far different, rather wild expansion of net neutrality's scope.  In fact, his redefinition of the term no longer even exclusively involves companies controlling telecommunications networks.  Rather he suggest net neutrality be redefined (or perhaps expanded) to include the "application and content layer."

The key excerpts of his statement are seen below:

There is widespread disagreement in defining the term “net neutrality.” Most discussion has focused on telecommunications carriers and how they operate and manage their physical networks. Neutrality advocates want to prohibit carriers from creating paid, prioritized “fast lanes,” and from slowing down or “throttling” customers using excessive bandwidth. Neutrality advocates argue that such practices will destroy the free and open internet, while the carriers argue such prohibitions will destroy their incentives to invest in infrastructure to carry more traffic.

BlackBerry believes policymakers should focus on more than just the carriers, who play only one role in the overall broadband internet ecosystem. The carriers are like the railways of the last century, building the tracks to carry traffic to all points throughout the country. But the railway cars travelling on those tracks are, in today’s internet world, controlled not by the carriers but by content and applications providers. Therefore, if we are truly to have an open internet, policymakers should demand openness not just at the traffic/transport layer, but also at the content/applications layer of the ecosystem. Banning carriers from discriminating but allowing content and applications providers to continue doing so will solve nothing.


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.

Basically he's claiming there's some grand argument over what net neutrality is defined as -- which is basically wrong. There may be a few people (himself included) with more exotic definition of net neutrality, but most on all sides of the issue are focusing on a relatively narrow and consistent definition, at least to the extent of who is being targeted for potential regulation.

II. Do as I Say That the Government Should Say, Not as I do

Based on his initial false premise, Chen is arguing that any media -- books, music, etc. -- and any larger app makers, should be forced to sell their content on all platforms -- even ones that have small user bases and may be fiscally infeasible to support.  In his dream scenario government regulators and industry standards makers would force app makers -- even rival companies like Apple -- to port there apps to BB's small userbase.

In mid-2014 BB had around 50 million subscribers, according to the Associated Press.  Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android has roughly 20 times as many subscribers -- 1 billion active users per month [source].  Apple has roughly half a billion users (10 times as many) [source].

BlackBerries in the trash
John Chen thinks developers should be forced to embrace his dying platform. [Image Source: LihPao]

So Chen is arguing that the government step in and force businesses to support platforms with anywhere from a tenth to a twentieth the amount of customers.  That's pretty crazy.

He tries to weekly justify this argument by mentioning his company's own cross-platform support for Android, Windows Phone, and iOS with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).  That's easy for him to say -- he's following the standard logic (supporting the larger platforms) and supporting his own platforms.

BBM for all
BlackBerry Messenger only supports the three biggest platforms, in addition to BB's own OS.
[Image Source: Gadget Images]

But is he even following his own definition of net neutrality?  Clearly not, given that there's no BlackBerry Messenger support for Firefox OS, yet.  So Chen is basically telling others that they should be forced to support his smaller platform, when his own company is refusing to support even smaller platforms.

Cutting blackberries
Even BB refuses to follow the standard Chen is suggesting. [Image Source: Unknown]

This critique in no means is meant to diminish Chen's admirable work to turn BlackBerry around or to attack the merits of cross-platform support.  But it is troubling to see BB lashing out at others for its failings, rather than taking responsibility for its own failings.  Cross platform support -- particularly for a large data-intensive app -- is in no means trivial, even with all today's helpful tools.  The bottom line he needs to recognize is that the more popular a platform is and the faster it's growing, the more it will see developer support.

Android and Apple weren't the original "two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem".  BB itself -- along with Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Nokia Oyj.'s (HEL:NOK1V) Symbian -- once enjoyed that advantage. The fact that it squandered that lead and is now bitter at Google and Apple's gains smacks of sour grapes.

Source: BlackBerry [official blog]

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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