More Net Neutrality

I know I haven't written anything in a while, but that is with good reason (I promise!)

Now that the dust has settled on the Net Neutrality debate (well, a little bit, anyway) and new rules have been passed in India for how ISPs are supposed to deal with traffic, I'm going to write a little bit more about the topic as it pertains both to India and the USA.

Compared to India, the US has usually had a much stronger culture towards peering fairly openly (not as openly as Europe, but still pretty open), and it's only really been in the last 3 years or so that Indian players have really begun to peer in any significant volume, especially at NIXI (which I maintain still has a problematic view towards the same because it's still not settlement-free).

In the US, however, T-Mobile - a company we like and whose network we like and use to deliver some services in the US - launched a programme called "Binge On" in November, which has led to some controversy but, given the low barriers to entry (the "barriers" are only technical, not financial) and the fact that the customer (and as of yesterday, the service provider) can opt out of the feature, I personally think that this is a good middle-ground, because not only can anyone serving legal video (or music) content join the Binge On or Music Freedom programmes (meaning the programme is basically content-agnostic), it is also set up in such a way that the last-mile operator (T-Mobile) isn't extorting cash in a pay-for-play or sponsored-data situation (like Comcast etc were early last year with Netflix, nor like AT&T are doing or like Facebook etc were trying to do in India before the rules changed).

Because while I advocate net neutrality in principle, I also feel it doesn't have to be so absolutist, especially when it benefits the subscribers - which is something we were also trying to do with Hayai Zone before we took that away in May 2015 (and guess what? As I predicted at the time, taking HZ away has only benefitted Hayai because now subscribers have to buy more data).

I had a short discussion with a forum-owner in India on the topic yesterday to kind of... alleviate some of the misunderstandings and assumptions about the programme (now that Google has joined), as well as the rules in India (and I'm also trying to allude to the fact that the new rules may actually make things worse, because you'll have a 2-tiered of "free" and "non-free" content depending on how you connect to the network.

Service providers can opt out of this feature.

In addition, users themselves can turn it off either by logging in to their account or sending an SMS to a short code.

Given that there is a choice here, I don't think neutrality is as much of an issue as it might be if, for example, T-Mobile were forcing Youtube to pay for priority access (as Netflix did with Comcast and so on last year).

In addition to this, the barrier to entry is very low: as their program currently stands, I could start a video streaming website on a $20/mo VPS and write to TM asking to be included in BingeOn, and so long as I met the (fairly basic) technical requirements that's all it would take.

"Net Neutrality" need not be so absolute when it comes to benefiting the customer - it looks like this has been recognized even in India, based on the law as I read it - and it looks like JIO noticed the same, because it appears they're planning something similar to what we are wrt delivering content via an Intranet (I'm currently in discussions with some well known content providers and CDNs about something to this effect, but can't say any more at this time).

It's when providers deliberately fuck with streams for no good reason or require "pay for play" that Net Neutrality is important.

Sushubh: I thought the TRAI policy would block such a feature from being implemented in India? Unless the video streaming service is owned by the internet service provider himself? 

While transparent (and probably ideal for normal customers), the unfortunate result with option 1 is that there's nothing stopping an ISP (or government) from either inserting ads (bad) or poisoning their DNS lookups (worse) or someone performing MITM attacks (worst) because this option would require - in effect - hijacking netflix traffic by forcing DNS to send it to a non-routable IP (even though that non-routable IP should be that of the ISPs Netflix appliance) instead of the regular public IP.

Sushubh: MTNL and BSNL are already injecting ads... I can only imagine what private operators are going to do if TRAI does not ban the practice.

Since the new rules came out, I've been coming up with ways to re-introduce the Hayai Zone for our subscribers and bring back the benefits - but doing it in such a way as to not violate the rules AND keep the Net Neutrality advocates as happy as I can (although the absolutist black-and-white "ALL TRAFFIC MUST BE EXACTLY EQUAL" probably won't be, but they've probably never used VOIP on a busy network and if they did they would probably be complaining loudly about call quality because the network isn't treating VOIP traffic as high-priority as is the industry best practice).

So since I'm in a catch-22 (lose-lose) situation with them, I'd rather just focus on what's best for my customers, and some of those with eagle-eyes watching our prices in India will have seen some tiers be reduced in price.

Could this be a sign of things to come? I'll leave you to speculate, because I'm not quite ready to announce anything yet -- in part because I'm still working to sort out our waiting list for service in India, in between 2 other announcements for the US which will be coming out within the next couple of weeks.

Stay tuned!

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