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Blackberry CEO to Congress: Mandate App Neutrality

Amid the fervor of the net neutrality debates in Washington, Blackberry CEO John Chen wants to add app neutrality to the mix, claiming that it isn't fair that mobile operating systems get to have exclusive content. Or as his critics interpret it: Why is Blackberry the kid nobody wants to play with in the park?

In a letter sent to the chairmen of the Senate Committee on Commerce and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Chen advocates for legislation that would bar operating systems from having certain apps as exclusive to their smartphones and tablets, saying that the existing market creates a "two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem" that hurts consumers. Chen criticized Google's Android and Apple's iOS for marketing exclusive apps to their customers while not allowing them to be sold cross channel. This is a new front in the evolving battle over Internet rules that could see the Internet newly regulated to prevent IPs selling fast-lane access to specific Web content distributors, or classifying the Internet as a public utility to be regulated like landline telephones.

One app that Chen took aim at was Netflix, which has refused to make its mobile app available on Blackberry devices. Netflix for its part pushed back on Chen's allegations by saying that there isn't enough volume in Blackberry's ecosystem for Netflix to benefit from. Blackberry has traditionally been a work-centered product, so an expansion by an entertainment app would not make sense. Catherine Shu of TechCrunch criticized Chen's push as a "farfetched idea." Some app developers, according to The Globe and Mail, suggested that this might have more to do with reversing Blackberry's flagging fortunes in the mobile device industry than a sense of moral obligation to a fair market, and an "app neutrality" law would mean additional expenses for developers to make versions for Blackberry, regardless of profitability expectations.

Chen may have supporters from organizations that support digital content freedom like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an advocacy group looking to decriminalize unlocking digital software in the U.S. and Canada. The idea of ending exclusive content would be that smartphones would have to compete on the merits of their hardware and price, rather than dangling the carrot of exclusive apps. It would be a dramatic shift in what is a multibillion industry (iOS generated $10 billion in app revenues alone).

The letter also comes at a time when buyout rumors by Samsung have caused company shares to be especially volatile, despite being repeatedly debunked.

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