Instead of a multi-stakeholder body to enforce Net Neutrality, Reliance Jio has suggested the a body primarily led by the industry. “We submit that instead of focusing on creating a new body in the form of a Multi-Stakeholder Body, DoT may consider and consult an industry-led body that already exists or may emerge as the technologies in relation to traffic management develop further”, Jio has said in its regulatory filing with the TRAI on its consultation on Net Neutrality. The TRAI Consultation Paper sought views from stakeholders, regarding what a committee to enforce Net Neutrality should look like, apart from looking into issues related to Traffic Management practices, which could have consequences for Net Neutrality depending on how a telco manages its traffic.
In the UK, the communications regulator Ofcom requires telecom providers to answer and publish a questionnaire that details, in simple terms, how they manage traffic in terms of throttling specific types of content or prioritizing traffic. (Here’s Vodafone UK’s form for its broadband products.)
Jio’s main suggestions
- Industry should lead the committee policing the industry: Instead of a multi-stakeholder body, as the Department of Telecommunications has indicated, Jio wants the body to be primarily led by the industry: “[I]n addition to its advisory role, the industry body should play an active role in assisting DoT in its monitoring and enforcement functions. This will establish a strong working relationship between the Government and the industry while the Government retains the decision-making control.”
- Proactive approach ‘onerous’: Jio also argues against a continuous monitoring of quality, essentially saying that it would be better to deal with issues as they crop up: “We believe that [detecting violation] of Net Neutrality principles by the TSP/ISP […] can be suitably done by a reactive regulatory approach, which is based on monitoring upon reporting of a potential incident by a relevant stakeholder, rather than a proactive regulatory approach, which requires continuous monitoring of the quality of the internet by the regulator. A proactive approach will be onerous and burdensome for both the regulator as well as the internet service providers.”
- Telcos should gatekeep complaints: In one of the more curious recommendations, Jio said that the (industry-led) Net Neutrality enforcement body should have the power to reject complaints deemed not credible: “Incident admission criteria should include a verification step by the industry body itself to avoid admission of frivolous incident reporting.”
- Tiered fees: Jio has also said that smaller organizations that join this industry-led industry-policing committee should have a tiered fee structure, with the bigger companies paying more — this, one hopes, will be the only sort of tiering accepted in an organization constituted to enforce neutrality.
How Jio manages traffic
From the company’s submission:
Broad types of TMPs currently deployed by [internet providers] include the following, among others:
a. Measures to optimize overall transmission quality in a permissible and proportionate way.
b. Safeguarding the security and integrity of its network through restricting connectivity or blocking of traffic to and from specific endpoints among others; eg: blocking of IP addresses from which an actual attack is originating, which are well known sources of attack, which are showing suspicious behaviour, where there are clear indications that they are part of bot network, which make use of identity theft filters, etc.
c. Blocking websites and services as it is required to do so by law or court order.
d. Preference to network management traffic over the rest of the traffic, which are aimed at properly configuring and securing the network and its equipment by efficiently balancing the load.
e. Deploying age verification/child protection/parental control tools.
f. Deploying content filtering or making content filtering tools where appropriate for public Wi-Fi access.
g. Ensuring elements of a consumer’s contract can be applied (e.g. data caps, download limits, heavy user policy)
h. Deploying objectively different technical QoS requirements of specific categories of traffic, viz. latency, jitter, packet loss, and bandwidth.
Gaming — Jio’s next Net Neutrality test
Reliance Industries Chairman and MD Mukesh Ambani let slip in his conversation with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, that Jio has partnered with Microsoft for the company’s Project xCloud game streaming service. This service, competing with the likes of Google Stadia and PlayStation Now, would let players play games from any screen connected to WiFi, and the game itself would be rendered in a faraway server and streamed to the user in real time.
This could be significant, since services like this need a highly reliable connection with telecom providers to run smoothly for players, which is not a given, in the patchwork of inconsistent peering arrangements that dot India’s internet infrastructure. While it’s too soon to see what happens in this industry — no major game streaming service is yet available here — it could very well turn out that game streaming is the next frontier of Net Neutrality regulation.