Mexico City’s government recently announced that they have reached a deal with the country’s three leading operators – AT&T Mexico, Telcel and Movistar – to give customers zero-rated access to the city’s app: CDMX. As a result, residents and tourists alike will be able to request municipal services and register complaints without using up their mobile data allowances.
The app features a total of 21 sections, each offering a different service. These include the ability to order taxis, remotely block smartphones in case of theft or loss, and file “Digital Complaints.” Customers need to be physically located in Mexico City to use the app. Maps are not included in the data-free offer.
While zero-rated applications have become commonplace in the mobile industry (particularly in Latin America), the participation of all of Mexico’s MNOs makes this initiative stand out. Additionally, the reach of the CDMX app extends far beyond the social media sites and other apps which are typically offered zero-rated by operators. It offers access to real-world support for a wide range of municipal needs for residents and visitors.
The government of Mexico City has long been a leader in digital accessibility. In November of 2021, the city captured the world record for most free Wi-Fi hotspots, at 21,500. It is easy to imagine that the CDMX app builds upon this track record and is appreciated both by locals (who will have better access to municipal functions) and visitors (who will be able to call cabs without having to worry about securing a local SIM).
While this new announcement has been heralded as an example of private-public partnership and an innovative use of mobile technology to address real-world problems, it is important to acknowledge that there are real risks to this type of initiative. MNOs have invested billions of dollars developing and maintaining their networks. If consumers are unable to differentiate between networks (as may occur in this instance since free access is provided by all the major operators’ networks), then it reduces the incentive for these carriers to continue to make these investments. Relatedly, more services being offered free reduces consumers’ willingness to spend on their own mobile service. In a worse case scenario, these initiatives can create a vicious cycle which would ultimately starve the system of investment.