Vodafone Passes Are a Dystopian Glimpse of a World Without Net Neutrality

By Tom Pritchard on at

The past few years there have been huge, huge arguments about the concept of net neutrality. The general idea that all internet data is the same and no company or website should be able to get preferential treatment - and they certainly shouldn't pay internet providers money in exchange for that preferential treatment.

More recently phone networks have been offering perks that contravene these ideals by offering its customers unlimited access to certain services. Like how Three gives people unlimited Netflix data. Vodafone is at it with a new initiative called Vodafone Passes, and they're an incredibly dystopian glimpse of what the world might look like without net neutrality.

Because mobile networks haven't caught up with broadband, it's almost impossible to get unlimited data. So if you're a heavy mobile data user, the networks will happily take a small fortune from you in exchange for extra gigabytes. Vodafone Passes are a little different, letting you pay an additional fee every month to get unlimited data on certain services. That way your regular allowance is free to use doing whatever the hell you normally do.

There are four to choose from, the video pass, music pass, chat pass, and social pass. The Video pass (£9, with a £7 introductory price) and gives you unlimited access to YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Video, TVPlayer, My5, and Vevo. The Music pass (£5) is for Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Napster, Deezer, Soundcloud, and Amazon Music. Social pass (£5) is for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Finally the Chat pass (£3) is for WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger.

If you want everything you can get all four for £15 a month, which saves you £7. These are only for customers on contract, so no joy for PAYG customers, and they're not actually part of your overall contract. Instead they're add-ons that can be activated of deactivated each month.

While there are services not included (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Snapchat are obvious omissions), Vodafone claims to be negotiating with other providers to bring their content platforms to the service.

I'm not the only person that thinks this is a slippery slope, so to speak, and it feels as though Vodafone is using the fact data is seen as a precious commodity to try and get more cash out of its customers. Pedants could conceivably argue that these packages aren't exactly a violation of net neutrality norms, since Vodafone isn't blocking or throttling the service for people who don't buy a pass, but it's a dangerous precedent to be setting, as introducing prices that discriminate on content still shape our incentives on what to pay for (would you ever make the jump and pay for a service that wasn't zero-rated if you were already a user of Netflix or Spotify? Exactly).

Trying to make your network more appealing for new and existing customers is one thing, but there are better ways to go. Like actually giving them unlimited data for everything, which is what Three does. It may be a lot more expensive than it used to be, but it's still an option. [TechRadar]

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