Netflix Can Be The Last Thing Required To Push India Against Net Neutrality

There are rumors about Netflix launching its service in India in a few weeks. This is a great news. India will (hopefully) have legal access to the content that was mostly out of reach until the creators chose to ship the DVDs. The rumor also says that Netflix is likely to partner up with ‘some 4G providers’ to ‘make faster streaming possible for their service’. As long as this partnership is about marketing and has nothing to do with how data is prioritized by the ISPs, it’s great. But if it’s not, then we’re in a big trouble.

The rumor has it that Netflix will partner up with ISPs so that data consumed while watching stuff on Netflix won’t be counted towards data cap. In other words, free unlimited Netflix. Sounds great, right? Wrong. This is bad. This is very bad. Let me explain!

This violates net neutrality

I know, I know. It is cool thing to do these days to slam everything and shout ‘net neutrality’. Hear me out. There are real problems here. If Netflix does this, then it will end up having monopoly over streaming scene in India. In a country where smooth stream at 240p is a luxury, you’d be left with two choices: Netflix at 720p/1080p unlimited vs YouTube, etc. at 240p/360p. Choice is obvious. All the other services are out of picture.

“But hey, that’s really not my problem. As a user all I care about is content. Other services can die for all I care.”

Agreed. But as a user, there are multiple content providers I’m interested in. I do like Netflix. But I also want to watch stuff on YouTube, Vimeo, and what not. So, even as a user, we should still care about other services.

It’s bad for start-up culture

YouTube and Vimeo are big companies. They can put their money into similar deals with ISPs and get into fast lane. As a user that solves my problems. However, I am also an independent developer. Let’s say I were to launch a start-up in this domain, I’m totally out of luck. I am pretty sure start-ups don’t have money to make shady deals with ISPs to put their content in special category. In a country where start-up people are worshiped as legends, I don’t think any more explanation is required. This deal could totally tear apart those beloved legends.

We are still likely to support Netflix

Facebook announced Free Basics and India rallied against it. (Or so I hope.) However, it is much less likely to happen in case of Netflix. The people that oppose Free Basics are the people mostly unaffected by it. The opposing group has nothing to gain or lose (in immediate future) with Free Basics. The very same people will be largely benefited by free Netflix. It is incredibly more difficult to say no to unlimited Netflix than to Free Basics.

Facebook’s target audience is class of society that barely understands the concept of internet, let alone the neutral internet. In case of Netflix, however, the target is middle class and upper middle class that sees Netflix as a luxury too difficult to ignore. This is a difficult conundrum to deal with. On one hand, we have neutral internet. On the other hand, we have hard earned bandwidth and FUP, beyond which every byte costs a kidney. Many more people are likely to support Netflix than did Facebook. Arguments are already being made in favor of Netflix deal.

One common argument is that it is necessary for progress. Here’s how it goes: “If you want progress you have to let Netflix provide fast lanes. If we oppose it we will be stuck with slow internet and bad service forever.” But this is not how any of it works! Yes, faster streaming is good for progress. But that has nothing to do with fast lanes. Faster internet infrastructure will allow faster streaming. And fast lanes or not, infrastructure will have to be built anyway. So, no! We don’t need special Netflix-internet. What we truly need is fast internet.

Another argument is that it will reduce piracy. Well, maybe for the content that is available on Netflix India. (Netflix is known to restrict content geographically.) But again, that has got nothing to do with Netflix being faster than other services. With all other factors equal, faster internet for everything will have same effect on piracy as faster internet for Netflix.

In other words, we have no reason to have Netflix-special internet. What we should be rallying for instead, is faster and more reliable internet experience for everything. And that, I support wholeheartedly.