Etisalat has become the latest operator to provide zero-rated content to subscribers as part of a new prepaid offer that includes free access to social networking applications, with the period of free access depending on the top-up amount.
In a release emailed to FierceWireless:Europe, the UAE-based operator said the Wasel prepaid promotion offers free access to Facebook, WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger and Twitter with a minimum top-up of AED5 (€1.17/$1.36), which provides "free social data" for a day. For longer periods of 60 days, customers would have to top up by AED100, for example.
The company added that the promotion has no conditions attached to usage or expiry of the topped up credit balance, so that customers do not risk losing their credit.
"Social media is not only helping our customers engage with each other, but also in staying connected with trends and changes in their environment. Our new prepaid promotion is designed to meet customer demand and has unique benefits for them," said Khaled ElKhouly, chief marketing officer at Etisalat.
Some industry watchers have been critical of so-called zero-rating of content, claiming that it violates the principle of net neutrality as it is a form of price discrimination that favours particular applications.
Research company Rewheel has been a particularly vocal critic. In October last year, the company issued a list of 75 "zero-rated, potentially anti-competitive mobile applications/services in the 28 member states of the European Union," for example.
Emma Mohr-McClune, service director, global consumer services at Current Analysis, also said in October last year that in the space of just 18 months, "zero-rating has gone from being an exotic and highly innovative charging mechanism to common practice across the globe. It's now just one of the pricing and positioning choices carriers consider in creating the marketing mix for any new digital service," she said.
Mohr-McClune also noted that from a European perspective, operators may launch zero-rated services and products as long as the launch of this service doesn't act as a restriction in terms of consumer freedom of choice. "So far, the net neutrality lobby attempting to argue that case hasn't found many compelling case studies to draw on," she commented.
In July last year, service optimisation and revenue generation specialist Allot Communications found that round 45 per cent of mobile operators worldwide now offer at least one zero-rated application, and the zero-rated app in 65 per cent of these cases is Facebook.
- see this Etisalat release
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