Comcast does us all a favor by handing the FCC a clear net neutrality case

27 November 2015 by Steve Blum
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You don’t need a video replay to referee this one.

When is streaming Internet video not Internet video? When it’s a cable company doing the streaming. At least according to Comcast. Ars Technica has a good article on Comcast’s latest ploy, which is to offer a cut down video package over the Internet connection that broadband-only subscribers can buy, and not count it against the monthly 300 GB cap it’s beginning to impose in some states (but not yet in California).

It goes to the heart of the net neutrality standards set by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year. The basic principle is that an Internet service provider can’t give its own content more favorable treatment than anyone else’s. On the surface that seems to be exactly what Comcast is doing, though, by saying that you can watch an unlimited amount of its video via your Internet connection but only 300 GB of, say, Netflix every month.

Comcast’s dodge is to say that its $15 a month streaming video package is not going over the actual Internet, just over its own, internal connection to customers, and is therefore a “specialised service” that just happens to be Internet protocol and therefore exempt from net neutrality requirements.

The relevant section of the FCC’s broadband common carrier rules reads…

IP-services that do not travel over broadband Internet access service, like the facilities-based VoIP services used by many cable customers, are not within the scope of the open Internet rules, which protect access or use of broadband Internet access service. Nonetheless, these other non-broadband Internet access service data services could be provided in a manner that undermines the purpose of the open Internet rules and that will not be permitted. The Commission expressly reserves the authority to take action if a service is, in fact, providing the functional equivalent of broadband Internet access service or is being used to evade the open Internet rules. The Commission will vigilantly watch for such abuse, and its actions will be aided by the existing transparency requirement that non-broadband Internet access service data services be disclosed.

I’m glad Comcast has done this. It’s 1. a crystal clear example of what network neutrality advocates were trying to prevent and 2. it’ll be judged against the FCC’s case by case review standard that lobbyist-in-chief Tom Wheeler promoted with such enthusiasm.

We’ll finally know who’s side the FCC is really on.