Even as TRAI moves closer to making recommendations on Net Neutrality, with an Open House Discussion on the consultation scheduled for Tuesday in Bangalore, some broadband providers are violating Net Neutrality with fast lanes, and in some cases, advertising these violations openly. Broadband provider Ortel, for example, offers separate speeds for regular Internet traffic, and web content that the ISP caches in servers that it maintains. While caching itself is not against Net Neutrality, Ortel’s tariff sheet (see below) mentions that cached content is always served ten to 40 times faster than un-cached Internet traffic.
Speaking to MediaNama, the Vice President of Ortel’s Broadband business Jiji John denied that the ISP’s caching violated Net Neutrality. In a statement, John said, “Cache concept is totally based on the Internet user’s browsing. ISP does not control the contents and it has nothing to do with Net Neutrality.”
This practice is not uncommon.
Alliance Broadband, a West Bengal-based Internet provider, offers separate speeds for Hotstar, Google and popular torrents, which are anywhere between 3–12Mbps faster than the speed of the rest of the Internet. What’s more, they are adding up these separate lanes and advertising the sum as the ‘total bandwidth’; meaning, if Hotstar is 8Mbps, torrents are 12Mbps, and the rest of the Internet is 5Mbps, your ‘total bandwidth’ is 25Mbps, even though the only way to attain that speed is to stream Hotstar, download a popular torrent, and browse the Internet simultaneously.
An Alliance Broadband technician confirmed that the ISP does peering for P2P traffic, specifically torrents.
Wishnet, another West Bengal ISP, offers similar plans, where Hotstar and YouTube are faster than the rest of the Internet:
It’s unclear whether Wishnet’s peering includes P2P traffic.
My take: more than just peering
Last year, I reported that two Delhi ISPs were offering Hotstar and YouTube on a fast lane, much like the above ISPs. Many of the responses to that article boiled down to the argument that ‘peering’ is not a violation of Net Neutrality, since it is a common practice that causes some websites to automatically be faster than parts of the Internet with which an ISP doesn’t have good interconnectivity. It’s true that peering is not a clear-cut violation of Net Neutrality, but it’s not just peering that these ISPs are engaging in. An example of more Net Neutrality-compliant peering would be Netflix’s Open Connect. In Open Connect, Netflix installs caches directly in participating Internet providers’ networks. As a result, Netflix data reaches subscribers a lot faster than it would if it came from a server sitting in Singapore. However, this speed is capped at the maximum limit of the rest of the Internet.
If Open Connect were served at a faster speed than a broadband user’s advertised Internet speed, however, that would be a violation of Net Neutrality.
The ISPs above are peering to manage traffic, correct. But they’re peering at a speed that is necessarily faster than the rest of the Internet. That is a fast lane, and violates Net Neutrality. It creates an uneven playing field between streaming services that are peered with the ISP, and those that are not. It also gives illegal torrents an upper hand over legal streaming services.
MediaNama’s three Net Neutrality principles
Rule 1: All sites must be equally accessible: ISPs and telecom operators shouldn’t block certain sites or apps just because they don’t pay them. No gateways should be created, in order to give preferential discovery to one site over another.
Rule 2: All sites must be accessible at the same speed (at an ISP/telco level): This means no speeding up of certain sites because of business deals. More importantly, it means no slowing down (throttling) of some sites.
Rule 3: The cost of access must be the same for all sites (per Kb/Mb or as per data plan): This means no “Zero Rating”. In countries like India, Net Neutrality is more about cost of access than speed of access: all lanes are slow.