In 2015, Star had some harsh words for differential pricing, a practice where different websites and apps would be priced differently by internet providers and telecom operators. “Differential pricing from TSPs will open the door to unholy alliances between TSPs [telecom service providers] and content providers to play the role of gatekeepers for both consumers as well as other content providers,” Star said (emphasis theirs). “The most likely scenario is that bigger websites, applications or platforms will be able to strike deals with TSPs while the smaller players will be left in the cold.”
Bigger website, meet unholy alliance. Hotstar, which is owned by Star, will be launching in Indonesia on Telkomsel’s MAXstream, a wireless data plan type that has different data limits for general internet use and affiliated streaming platforms. The kind of arrangement, where access to Disney+ Hotstar and some other select OTT platforms is subsidised, is exactly what Star warned against in 2015, and is a startling about-face for a company that has vehemently and unambiguously come out in support of Net Neutrality, the concept that all data that flows over the internet must be treated the same. Star’s 2015 filing is worth reading in its entirety for the sheer study in contrast with the deal it has entered in Indonesia. Hotstar in particular (as opposed to Star India) also filed two responses to TRAI in support of Net Neutrality in the following years.
Telkomsel’s MAXstream is a straightforward violation of Net Neutrality, but that doesn’t seem to bother the company now. So what changed? For one, ownership. Hotstar (along with Star India) is now owned by Disney, whose executive chair Bob Iger said that Net Neutrality “has never been a problem for us”. Personnel, too, may be a factor. Two of the three Star/Hotstar senior executives who put their name on filings in support of Net Neutrality — Pulak Bagchi and Ajit Mohan — have moved on from the company.
Maybe what we should be looking at is what hasn’t changed, and that is that wireless data prices in Indonesia are still expensive. While India’s data prices have plummeted since Jio’s entry substantially, 1GB of data on average costs over seven times more in Indonesia than here. It just may be that in the conflict between Star’s stated values and their business interests, the latter won out. In any case, we can’t be fully sure — the company did not respond to our request for comment.