Hotstar has supported strong Net Neutrality rules in a filing to India’s telecom regulator, TRAI. It has recommended “bright-line” rules that clearly prohibit discriminatory behaviour like blocking and slowing down some sites and services. The company also argued for a very narrow list of exceptions to Net Neutrality regulations, with specific conditions to be fulfilled for exemption from rules to be allowed. “[E]dge users of the Internet have a right to be able to access all end-points of the Internet, and this includes any and all content, applications and services that may be available,” the filing said.
Internet of Things should be regulated
Although many Internet providers’ filings had significant disagreements, they all largely agreed that the Internet of Things (IoT) and “specialized services” like those used by enterprise clients should not be regulated by Net Neutrality rules — only ACT Broadband suggested that Net Neutrality rules should apply to IoT.
Hotstar argued against IoT being exempted from Net Neutrality, reasoning that it “is a fairly new concept and it should not be excluded from the purview of Net Neutrality.” It added, “It is a fast-developing technology with a variety of use-cases.” Pointing out that the IoT ecosystem is also vulnerable to security threats, Hotstar said that excluding it from regulatory purview may “have unintended consequences”. “In the absence of Net Neutrality, IoT providers will be left at the mercy of TSPs/ISPs picking winners and losers, and true world changing innovation in this field will be lost at the altar of unfair competition and discriminatory practices,” the filing said.
Don’t let Internet masquerade as “enterprise”
The filing also came out strongly against Internet providers who provided broad access to the Internet while “masquerading” as a narrow enterprise service. Internet traffic, which TRAI wants a definition for, should not include “services that are functional equivalents of Internet services or services that provide access to the Internet but are deployed in a manner to evade the Net Neutrality framework,” Hotstar said. Even when traffic management is performed for enterprise services, “[t]he service should be able to demonstrate that the specific level of quality required cannot objectively be assured over the Internet”. “The [enterprise] service should not be usable to provide general access to the Internet or as a replacement to Internet access service,” Hotstar argued.
CDNs shouldn’t be regulated
Hotstar said that since Content Delivery Networks, which transport much of the Internet’s content by efficiently locating data near end-users, should not be regulated by Net Neutrality rules. This position is reflected in Hotstar’s CDN provider Akamai’s filing as well. Netflix, Hotstar’s largest competitor, spent much of its filing arguing against regulations for CDNs, even in its counter-filing. In contrast, Hotstar emphasize relatively less on CDNs, saying that they should be regulated by laws regulating unfair trade practices instead, suggesting the same for private interconnection arrangements.
Differentiating between different types of web traffic under the guise of “traffic management” should not be allowed, Hotstar argued. Reacting to possible exceptions suggested in the consultation paper, Hotstar conceded, “Emergency situations and services could be treated as exceptions.” However, it is important “to properly define and list such situations and services to limit the scope of the exception and its interpretation,” the filing argued.
“[A]ny sort of restriction/blocking should only be applicable after an order from the court,” Hotstar reasoned. However, they said that in cases of copyright infringement, ISPs should be able to act on their own. This position reflects Hollywood studios’ filing to TRAI.
Internet providers should comprehensively disclose how they manage traffic, Hotstar suggested.
“TSPs/ISPs should be required to publicly disclose accurate infonnation regarding the TMPs, performance, and commercial terms (including data allowances and caps) of their service,” the filing said. “TSPs/ISPs should make adequate disclosures that allow edge users to make an informed choice about the TSP’s/ ISP’s services.”
“The Service Providers should be required to confirm if they give preference to certain specific traffic during peak hours and why,” it added.
Enforcing Net Neutrality
Hotstar said that detecting discriminatory traffic management can be challenging. “At the moment, the regulator, edge users and edge service providers lack the appropriate legal and possibly technical, avenues to have potential violations addressed,” the filing admitted. To deal with this, Hotstar suggested the creation of a consumer complaint forum, so that TRAI can investigate instances of reported Net Neutrality violations. It suggested a similar forum for content providers who feel that their content is being unfairly treated by Internet providers.
Rejecting TRAI’s suggestion of a multi-stakeholder body to oversee Net Neutrality compliance, Hotstar said that TRAI alone should enforce the regulations that may come following this consultation. Net Neutrality should be included in the Department of Telecommunications license for Internet providers, Hotstar argued.
Additionally, Hotstar said that it was only desirable for TRAI to define principles of unfair traffic management, since new techniques of managing traffic are rapidly emerging. If specific techniques are blacklisted, regulation may become obsolete as ISPs find new ways to subvert net neutrality, it argued. This will “ensure TSPs/ISPs are unable to get away with detrimental traffic management practices,” the filing said.
Telecom operators have long argued that Net Neutrality rules should include the end-users’ devices and web browsers that access online content. Hotstar rejected this argument, saying that “[t]he net neutrality debate concerns the neutrality of the network providing access to the Internet for the edge users,” and that end-users’ devices and browsers did not fall under that network. Netflix had similarly argued that “devices, browsers and other technologies that enable consumers to access content online are distinct from [ISPs’ services] as they do not hold a monopoly on access.”