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Net Neutrality: Vodafone wants right to manipulate Internet videos

Telcos want to be able to reduce video quality

Vodafone India said it would like to be given the power to manage the size of videos watched by users on its mobile network and lower it automatically “for overall quality welfare”.

Participating in the discussions related to Net Neutrality and the powers to be given to telecom operators in traffic management, the company said it did not favor an approach that totally prevented companies like itself from touching the content passing through their network.

It also said it would like telecom operators to have the power to block or slow down traffic for certain services when its network starts facing congestion issues.

At present, India does not have any specific guidelines on these matters and the telecom regulator is creating new laws via its consultation on net neutrality.

POWER TO MODIFY

At present, video providers, like Youtube, as well as people who watch the video on the computers and mobiles can change the quality of the video stream. Telecom companies do not manipulate or interfere in this aspect.

However, Vodafone said TRAI’s upcoming net neutrality rules should allow for telcos “optimising video, both in terms of available bandwidth and resolution of mobile screens.”

POWER TO BLOCK, SLOW DOWN

The operator also said it should be allowed to slow down or block traffic to certain services if doing so will “benefit end users”.

The company did not specifically mention what it meant by “benefit end users,” but many markets such as the US has seen tremendous litigation around internet service providers blocking services like Netflix and Youtube claiming that doing so would benefit non-video customers.

Vodafone’s opinion was opposed by content players like Times Internet, which fear that giving telecom operators intrusive rights like allowing them to decide the quality of the video being watched by a user could lead to anti-competitive practices.

It said that non-investment into network capacity by the operator cannot be used as an excuse to tamper with or manipulate user data.

“Telecom service providers are always marketing for acquiring new users and aware about market size, total number of users and demand. If TSPs are not having sufficient capability of its network or not investing/upgrading it’s network to overcome the problem of Traffic Congestion to meet the demand, they don’t have moral right to acquire new users.”

Mozilla Corp, the company that makes the Firefox browser, said operators could misuse any such provision to promote their own offerings by finding loopholes in such laws.

“If a (telecom) provider has entertainment content offerings that are locally cached (stored), the provider may prioritize traffic that’s locally cached over other traffic, and claim that it is doing so for network management, while refusing to allow other service providers to cache traffic locally,” Mozilla Corp said. “In this case, although the provider is not facially discriminating against or in favor of any specific traffic or categories of traffic, the result is nevertheless intentionally anti-competitive and should not be permitted.”

Similarly, “a network operator may allege that YouTube and Skype are too high-bandwidth and thus should be throttled, while the operator’s own video streaming and conferencing solutions are less used and thus less bandwidth consuming and are not throttled. Again, an act that appears on its face to be motivated by technical means is in fact motivated by anti-competitive ends,” the browser maker added.

APP CERTIFICATION

Fellow operator Idea Cellular also suggested that mobile apps be allowed on the network only if they complete an “accreditation” process.

At present, all users are free do download and use any application — such as WhatsApp and Youtube — on their phones, but Idea Cellular said some of these apps lead to an increase in data consumption on the networks.

“..the ‘applications’ should go through certain accreditation so that they do not create any kind of negative impact on the network and become a threat to the efficiency of mobile eco system,” it said.

The operator did not specify who would ‘accredit’ the apps to be ‘network safe’.

Developers of apps are unlikely to be enthused by such proposals going by the trackrecord of such programs. Apple, which has exactly such a process, has often been accused of blocking apps from its store when they tend to compete with its own apps.

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