Freeing the Internet: open access is a human right

In 2011, the United Nations declared access to the internet a human right and that blocking access to it is tantamount to a human rights violation.

We at VEON agree. That’s why our new internet and messaging platform is completely free for our users–and has no advertising.

Not everyone is a Wall Street investment banker who doesn’t blink at their internet bill, and there are still four billion people who aren’t connected. People in developing nations stand to gain the most from access to the internet, broad communication, education using tools like secure microtransactions.

Considering the geographical positioning of our company, with tens of millions of users in developing countries, we think this is a bold move that will revolutionize the telecommunications industry and make the internet work for the consumer. These are the markets of tomorrow.

Most of the world’s internet traffic is now being driven through smartphones and tablet devices. Yet, for much of the world, a smartphone constitutes a major investment of annual income. For someone in a developing nation, a smartphone costs roughly ten to twenty percent of their annual income–as compared to just one percent for someone in Western Europe. This is a large barrier to entry for a consumer in, say, Pakistan.

On top of that, a user in Pakistan spends about $1.50 USD a month to stay connected to the internet, mostly in the form of prepaid monthly plans. That might not sound like a lot of money to some, but it is often cost-prohibitive. In fact, many Pakistanis run out of data by the 23rd or 24th of any given month, leaving them disconnected for the last week. This is a truly disruptive and stifling cycle to be stuck in.

That is why we have started offering free messaging for our 60 million Pakistani users, as well as the other 170 million plus users around the world, through our new VEON internet platform.

Our customers are responding. We are already seeing encouraging signs of what democratizing and freeing the internet looks like. For example, the VEON platform went viral in Pakistan as soon as it launched. In the first week, we offered our Pakistani users a coupon for a national retail chain named ChenOne. There was such high volume due to customer engagement that ChenOne was actually forced to close shops across the country.

This is just one example of how giving free, open access to the internet puts the consumer back in the driver’s seat of their experience with the web. Dedication to user experience drives the new VEON platform.

Thinking critically about what our users actually want has led us to make some big decisions. We will never sell our users’ data to advertisers since we believe this is a gross mismanagement of privacy. We are dedicated to the principles of net neutrality, and we promise never to block content or throttle speeds to access certain services.

In the spirit of a free and open internet, VEON will never run ads. We think it is important to find other, more value-centric ways to make money. To do this, we are partnering with app developers to set up revenue-sharing structures with them. That way, all the service providers, from app developers to VEON itself, are aligned to focus on delivering the best user experience.

Access to the internet is a human right–VEON truly believes that. But let’s also work to make the internet a fun, easy-to-use, customer-centered experience we will all enjoy.

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