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Indian ISPs block Streamable; Airtel runs ads on block page

Indian ISPs have blocked Streamable, an internet based video streaming service which is used by publishers and bloggers for embedding and monetizing content. We checked, and when accessed on Airtel (mobile) from Delhi, the website features a notice which states “your requested URL has been blocked as per directions received from Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.”

Streamable works on MTNL Delhi (wireline), and Jio Delhi (wireless), it seems to be blocked on BSNL Delhi. but appears to also be blocked on Airtel (wireline) in DelhiBangalore, Noida and Chennai, apart from Vodafone 4G in Mumbai, Gurgaon and ACT in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Clearly, this isn’t an Airtel-only block.

Why Streamable?

Video content is typically blocked because of John Doe orders issued by courts, which allow movie producers to ask ISPs to block any website or link. The thing about Streamable is that since it is a video uploading and streaming service, blocking the main site itself amounts to censorship and the prevention of any user anywhere in India uploading and sharing videos via the site. To protect free speech, it is essential to also protect the infrastructure for that speech, and quite clearly, the blocking of Streamable is uncalled for. Imagine if YouTube was blocked in its entirety because of an issue with a single video.

Airtel is running ads on block pages

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This block of Streamable impacts monetization for publishers and bloggers using Streamable, which, according to its website, is being used by over 25,000 companies globally, including Vice, Business Insider, Huffington Post, among others. What’s despicable, though, is that Airtel is using the blocking of a video streaming site to drive downloads of its own music (and video) streaming service Wynk.

We’ve written to Airtel with the following questions, and will update when we hear from them.

1. Why has streamable been blocked on Airtel? It works on Jio and MTNL Delhi
2. How long will streamable be blocked?
3. What recourse does streamable have for getting this block from Airtel removed?
4. At present, how many URLs does Airtel block?
5. How many links blocked in 2016 are now accessible on Airtel?

We’ve sent similar questions to Vodafone, which hasn’t issued a transparency report since 2015, so we’ve also asked them about when they intend to issue another transparency report. Airtel, India’s largest ISP, has never issued a transparency report, and has a rather poor history when it comes to censorship and privacy violations (read this, this and this). There have also been occasions when private censorship from Reliance Communications, a telecom operator, has also been alleged.

Updates: an earlier version of this story incorrectly mentioned ACT as a Vodafone service. YOU broadband is a Vodafone owned company, not ACT. Our apologies for the error

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