NET NEUTRALITY: Netflix says let India decide what it wants to watch

Netflix, the world’s biggest provider of video-on-demand services, rebuffed attempts by telecom companies to control viewership of online video and said consumers must be allowed to consume any legal content on the Internet without ‘gate keeping’ or interference by telecom providers.

It said its position was that “gate-keepers should not be in a position to block, throttle or prioritise data based on payment, and that choice of legal content consumption should remain squarely in the hands of consumers.”

Netflix was responding to demands by telecom companies that they should be allowed to throttle video and other services and wanted an exemption from the India’s upcoming net neutrality rules prohibiting slowing down, speeding up or otherwise manipulating traffic any website, app or service.

Netflix, which is estimated to account for cater to about 35-40% of the total Internet traffic in North America, rebuffed efforts by telecom companies to compare its data saving mechanism with what they had in mind.

Telecom operators had argued that since Youtube, Netflix, Amazon and others allow users to lower the quality of the video via buttons, telecom providers should be allowed to reduce the quality of video ‘for public welfare‘.

However, Netflix said there was a big difference between allowing users to switch to lower-quality video to save data and forcing them to watch a lower quality video.

“Several submissions by other parties refer to our Data Saver feature, asserting that this is an example of “throttling” of Internet traffic. It is important to clarify that our Data Saver feature was created to allow consumers to control how much data they use when streaming on cellular networks. This is different from how Internet service providers might “throttle” data to free up bandwidth.

“In fact, our features are designed to empower consumers to make choices about their data usage while using Netflix, given that data charges and restrictive data plans remain a major concern for most consumers. If a consumer prefers to stream content at a higher bitrate, they can do so,” said the American company — which recently entered India.

The Net Neutrality consultation process has turned into a fight between telecom providers — who want the right to ‘speed up’ services they offer over general Internet — and practically everyone else on the Internet.

The telecom companies have already scored a victory in the first leg of net neutrality legislation that related to pricing.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India last year exempted services provided by them from its differential data regulation, and many fear that the TRAI could provide a similar exemption when it comes to ‘no slowing down’ rules as well.

Under last year’s differential rules, the TRAI said telecom companies’ own services are not bound by pricing related net neutrality rules if they restrict their services to their own subscribers.

A similar exemption to the ‘no speed up, no slowdown’ rules would allow telcos to speed up their own apps and slow down traffic to Internet-based services. This would severely hit ability of Internet-based companies like Netflix and Youtube to compete with apps and websites operated by telecom companies.

Most telecom companies in India, such as Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone and Idea Cellular, offer an increasing array of services such as video, news, messaging and so on. However, usage of such apps has not taken off as consumers generally prefer apps from Internet-based providers like WhatsApp and Netflix.

However, if the TRAI gives an exemption to telco services from its rules prohibiting traffic manipulation, the operators could make their own services fast, while slowing down competing apps and services from the Internet.

Netflix warned against allowing such exemptions in net neutrality (traffic) rules.

“We respectfully submit that any exemption to this rule would empower gate-keepers to give an advantage to video content provided by platforms that can afford to pay for prioritisation, or to video content that they own.

“This would significantly impact the neutrality of the Internet. When an ISP or TSP advertises and sells access to the Internet, it is their duty to ensure that consumers are able to access any and all content at the speed that they pay for,” it said.

Echoing the position of other content providers like Times Internet, Netflix said if a telecom company does not have the capability to provide a connection of X Mbps, it should simply not sell such a service instead of blocking services and apps that consumers want to use.

“An inability to provide sufficient bandwidth should not result in having legitimate content compromised or disadvantaged.”