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IFF: There are sufficient ways to test Net Neutrality violations

One of the most common refrains in telecom companies’ filings about Net Neutrality is this: how do you even test for Net Neutrality violations as a regulator in a reliable way? In its filing, the Internet Freedom Foundation said that there were sufficient tools to test if Internet providers’ traffic management practices (TMPs) are violating Net Neutrality. “[I]nternational organisations like Measurement Lab and Glasnost have developed network measurement tools which remain available in the public domain. Such tools go beyond merely speed towards wider technical characteristics. These tools can help with publication of data, and would allow external stakeholders and government authorities to audit service provider activities,” the filing said.

“Academic researchers and national regulatory authorities have been actively engaged in measuring traffic management practices for well over a decade to considerable success,” M-Lab has told TRAI in 2017. “The adoption of TMP measurement tools by TRAI would build on a rich history of research and implementation, and align with the current agenda of BEREC and other regulators.”

Act fast, encourage transparency

  1. Time is of the essence: “While TRAI and DoT consider a wider framework to identify reasonable TMPs, there is need to avoid the pitfalls of a “wait and watch” approach,” IFF said, noting that almost two years have passed since the DoT made Net Neutrality part of telcos’ license conditions. “Yet, the degree to which these provisions are indeed being enforced or have been enforced at all remains unclear. Such a vacuum aids IAS [Internet Access Service] providers who can continue to deploy questionable traffic management practices with impunity.”
  2. Peer-to-peer and encrypted traffic: When internet providers are allowed to discriminate between classes of traffic to manage their networks during congestion, “it is likely to harm internet users who use P2P file sharing platforms, encrypted traffic and possibly gaming platforms,” IFF said, despite the importance of “improving digital security overall and financial cybersecurity specifically.” On that note, IFF also said that Deep Packet Inspection should not be allowed.
  3. LTE should not have special rules: Mobile networks should not have more free rein to discriminate traffic, IFF said. As a part of the FCC’s rollback of Net Neutrality regulations in the US, mobile networks were categorised as private, freeing them up from potential regulation. “[T]here is literature which suggests that LTE networks do not pose fundamentally different technical challenges as compared to wireline DSL technologies,” IFF said. “Further, relaxed standards for mobile technologies could inadvertently harm India’s own aspirations of wireline internet connectivity since, since it may distort supply-side incentives in favour of wireless connectivity.”
  4. Multilingual TMP disclosures: Emphasising the importance of transparency of traffic management practices, IFF said that disclosures “could be done through a standardised format for TMP disclosures by IAS providers to end users. We stress that one of the components of this endeavour should be that TSPs are required to publish these disclosures in multiple vernacular languages to account for India’s diverse linguistic background.”
  5. Open source tools: “Authorities should encourage solution providers to develop open software through which independent researchers can deploy their technical expertise to build solutions to monitor TMPs in India,” IFF said, saying that this was important considering India’s “geographical, terrain related realities”. Researchers should be able to probe networks at all layers and access a wide range of protocols to that end, the filing added.
  6. Multistakeholder body should be advisory: The MSB that the government plans to constitute should be advisory, IFF said, with the final power resting with the Department of Telecommunications. The filing warned against excluding any class of members, and said no powers should be accorded on the basis of membership fees paid. Noting that “net neutrality is intrinsically linked with people’s right to freedom of speech and expression over the internet,” IFF said that civil society groups should be included.
Links: Consultation | Filing
Dive deeper: Airtel’s submission | Reliance Jio’s submission | Barbara van Schewick’s submission | Asia Internet coalition’s submission
Disclosure: MediaNama’s publisher and editor Nikhil Pahwa was the founding chairman of the Internet Freedom Foundation. 

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