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ISPs differ on key Net Neutrality issues

ACT Broadband said that caching content on hard disks for faster delivery of data to the end user should be treated as ‘network optimization’ and exempted from the purview of net neutrality, in its submission to TRAI’s public consultation. It added that such arrangements do not “slow down (speed of) other application or application providers, rather improve their experience, representing very distinct issue from paid prioritization.” TRAI is currently holding a public consultation on whether ISPs and telcos should be allowed to block, throttle speeds, and manage traffic flow of certain websites and apps.

According to ACT, caching content locally reduces total distance taken for data to travel, improves network quality and reduces tariff prices for end users.  The Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), a lobbying body consisting of ISPs in India, as well as independent ISP Spectranet also submitted similar answers to TRAI. These ISPs are suggesting that content providers like Netflix, Hotstar, etc. should be allowed to store caches of their content on their network, and stream it to users locally, instead of streaming it from Netflix’s servers abroad. Note that Netflix already has such tie-ups with ISPs including YOU Broadband, Hathway, and ACT

Although TRAI had banned discriminatory pricing of websites, the concept of fast lanes or offering websites at a higher speed than advertised wasn’t a central point of discussion in TRAI consultation papers until now. Some ISPs have flouted net neutrality by placing websites on a fast lane using peering techniques and is a cause of concern for net neutrality. We had reported in November last year that Excitel, a Delhi-based offered four Internet plans, three of which provides YouTube and Hotstar at twice the speed of the rest of the Internet.

The ISPAI and Net Neutrality

It’s worth remembering that the ISPAI had, during the consultation in 2015-16 on Differential pricing issues of Net Neutrality, had changed its stance: it initially supported Net Neutrality, and opposed exceptions and prioritisation during the comments stage, and then contradicted its submission in the counter comment stage by parroting what its telecom operator members had also submitted.

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A lowdown on some of the comments by ACT, Spectranet and ISPAI:

On Net Neutrality exceptions 

1. ThrottlingTorrents, P2P file sharing sites:

  • ISPAI said in its submission that P2P file-sharing and torrents can be exempted from net neutrality regulations and that ISPs should be allowed to throttle or block them. According to it torrents and P2P file sharing sites “…may bring down the network by sharing copyrighted content illegally. To prevent network break-downs, application-specific discrimination would be needed…to completely block or throttle such applications.”
  • ACT and Spectranet did not make a mention about using throttling for blocking torrents, but said that a particular app or website from one vendor should not be given “preferential QoS” over another and/or slowed down.

2. VPNs, Internet-based Video, IoT:

  • ISPAI also suggested net neutrality exception for Virtual Private Networks, enterprise solutions, Internet-based video, IoT, M2M and a whole range of innovative services for enterprises and consumers, such as remote healthcare/surgery, distance learning, and connected vehicles.” The association added that “specialized services” like M2M “require the creation of a differential quality of service network to meet technical requirements…”
  • ACT had a different point of view; it wants IoT-based services to come under net neutrality purview, because according to it “most IoT services will be generic” except for emergency services that depend on IoT.

3. Enterprise Solutions:

  • ACT  and Spectranet also recommended net neutrality exception for enterprise solutions, stating that these solutions “are very dependent on guaranteed QoS towards certain services and servers.” They, however, did not elaborate what kind of Enterprise Services need to be excluded.
  • ISPAI also wanted net neutrality exceptions for enterprise solutions, and also specified services like VPNs and P2P file sharing for exceptions.

On Traffic Management

4. No preferential QoS for public content”:

  • ACT suggested a “narrow approach” for determining what constitutes “non-reasonable” traffic management.  “This (narrow approach) would allow the ISPs/telcos to frame their own approach of network optimization and market innovation,” ACT added. According to it, an ISP can provide “generic connectivity to all published internet public IPs without any preferential QoS for public content.” It does not mention what constitutes “private content” but pointed out that “providing differential QoS” to a certain CDNs, traffic, set of users, applications should be banned.
  • Spectranet and ISPAI also said that preferential treatment of any particular content on the Internet should not be allowed.

On Disclosures, monitoring violations

5. Disclosures to the regulators: ACT and Spectranet said that an effective method to bring in transparency and monitor NN violations is via disclosures to the regulatory authorities. ACT, however, added that any net neutrality violation committed by a service provider within a network would be hard to detect. This is because ISPs will “direct preferred traffic to a specific network” in case they indulge in throttling/preferential treatment, ACT said.

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6. Independent committee to keep check on violations: ACT, Spectranet and the ISPAI suggested the TRAI to come up with an independent committee to keep check in violations committed by ISPs and telcos. ACT also added that due to low broadband internet penetration “and considering the relative stage of development of an ecosystem in India, adoption of overly aggressive active reforms could limit the opportunity for TSP/ISPs.” Spectranet and ISPAI differed on this slightly; they added that the same independent agency could also monitor or verify disclosures and information submitted by telcos and ISPs.

7. Disclosure to users: ACT Spectranet, and ISPAI said that subscribers should have access to “adequate information” about traffic management policies deployed in a network, in order to allow users to make “informed choices”. However, they also added that such disclosures will only be given to users “upon specific request being made by the Subscriber in writing.”

8. User Surveys: Although ACT wanted user/subscriber surveys as an option to keep a check on net neutrality violations, the ISPAI and Spectranet was against this. They said that “net neutrality understanding by users is at a nascent stage and hence information from users may not be depended upon.”

Download:
ACT’s comments
Spectranet’s comments
ISPAI’s comments

Also Read:
Reliance Jio’s comments
AT&T’s comments

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