Telia incurred the wrath of Swedish media, which effectively accused the operator of infringing new European Union net neutrality laws by offering unlimited free access to social networks and apps including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Representatives of 27 Swedish newspapers, TV and radio stations signed a joint statement saying that the zero-rating of social media usage "is a direct attack on net neutrality, and it is hardly a coincidence that it's happening two weeks after the new EU net neutrality rules go into effect with the intent of securing an open Internet with equal treatment for everyone."
The statement was published on the web site of Sverige Radio to mark World Press Freedom Day this week.
Telia -- which recently changed its name from TeliaSonera -- said in April that it would allow its customers to surf freely on the most popular social media sites and apps, meaning that data buckets and plans would not be affected when using these services.
Sweden's media companies have now asked the country's government and parliament to use their role as majority owners in Telia, "to ensure that the company works as a role model for net neutrality and the right to freedom of expression on the Internet."
Zero rating has been a controversial topic, and is said by some to violate the principle of net neutrality as it is a form of price discrimination that favours particular applications.
Indeed, Facebook encountered considerable opposition in India to its internet.org initiative that offers free access to various online services on mobile phones. The Indian telecoms regulator has now banned Facebook's zero-rated Free Basics service.
Organisations such as Facebook and Wikipedia insist that free content initiatives are essential to enable more people in developing markets to get online using mobile devices.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress in March 2015, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said it's a win-win situation: operators benefit as people are tempted to use more of their services and so drive traffic, and users benefit as they gain access to the same online services that are available to everyone globally.
Certainly, Telia is far from the only operator to be making use of zero rating to entice users to subscribe to its mobile plans. Even rival Three Sweden now allows its users to stream music from Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Google Music or SoundCloud without it affecting their data plans.
- see the Swedish media statement
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