Telcos Consider Implementing (Pointless) Ad-Blocking across Mobile Networks

by Jeff Wiener on May 29, 2015

In a move akin to plugging a hole in a dam that has sprung a thousand leaks, there has been a growing discussion of late in the telecom industry regarding the possibility of telcos deploying ad-blocking capabilities across their respective networks, charging the likes of Google—whose entire revenue stream is linked to advertising—to unblock their advertising in some kind of revenue sharing agreement.

Now the notion that network operators could, or should, block advertising and charge companies for the privilege is really nothing new, it’s been part of a larger ongoing discussion across the industry for some time now, of how to transform operators from simply being the “dumb pipe” that everyone else’s data (and profits) are delivered on, to actually being a part of the process, monetizing the data networks deliver in a way that benefits those providing the networks themselves.

But as I mentioned, whatever efforts telcos might want to make in regards to blocking advertising and charging companies for the service, they’re about as effective as plugging one hole in dam that’s sprung a thousand leaks. As noted technology analyst Dean Bubley brilliantly writes, telcos often “take 4 years to spot a good idea, 4 years to implement it & another 4 years to realize they’re too late.” While such blocking efforts may stem some of the torrent of advertising, such thinking is already several years old, virtually irrelevant when talking about the myriad of mediums by which mobile advertising is delivered today.

Now that’s not to say that stemming the tide of mobile advertising is pointless in itself, as I for one think that there’s something genuinely unjust about advertising gobbling up our precious data allotments, with us being charged for the annoyance of having to endure such pop-ups without an option to opt-out.

As Bubley writes, “While the morality of overall ad-blocking is dubious (it’s how useful free content is paid for), on mobile data-plans with low usage caps it may indeed be an onerous burden. Websites have a right to advertise at me, but don’t have a right to make me incur substantial extra costs for the ‘privilege’ of being ‘advertised at’. Auto-playing video or audio adverts alongside static content are especially disproportionate. Various forms of pop-up or other intrusive formats are also occurring in mobile, as browsers get more capable – and there is justifiable resentment at some of these.” I couldn’t agree more.

In fact, the dubious nature of mobile advertising may stand as one area where regulators and the general public may accept a counter-neutrality approach, one where so-called network management—the blocking of advertising, which is contrary to the regulations put forth by the FCC—may be a justifiable answer, particularly when we’re talking about consumer protection.

But let’s be honest here, that’s not what telcos are concerned about, they’re worried about the fact that the tech industry has out-maneuvered them, having found ways to utilize the networks telcos provide to establish multi-billion dollar online empires. So when telcos discuss the idea of ad-blocking, don’t think for one second it’s a customer relations move, it’s about getting a piece of the pie pure and simple.

However, as I mentioned, despite the telecom industry’s best efforts to block advertising and sell the privilege back to advertisers, the advertising industry itself is likely advanced well beyond such restrictions. Again as Bubley explains, “While ad-blocking might be effective for stopping in-browser ads, the technology will struggle with other formats like in-app ads (except where they are from an obvious source, or in a hybrid ‘webview’ page in the app). It also struggles with various forms of ‘native’ advertising embedded into content, such as video pre-roll ads or sponsored-content promotions.”

Simply put, if telcos want to find a ways to become more than “dumb pipes,” well they’re going to have to start thinking about the future, but as both you and I know, that’s never really been the industry’s strong suit.

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