Is Comcast Playing Fast and Loose with Net Neutrality?

By Steve Anderson May 16, 2012

With the streaming video market a hotly contested property, and many services vying for the prize of being the primary provider of video for customers who want to watch whatever they like whenever they like, services like Comcast are finding themselves under fire for potentially playing favorites. And while the FCC will be the ultimate force in deciding whether or not Comcast violated net neutrality principles, the end result is the same: Comcast has a clear advantage in the field.

The allegations that Comcast was defying net neutrality principles began around a month ago, when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted in a Facebook post that he had Comcast cable Internet service. This by itself meant little, except when he went to watch streaming video on his Xbox 360. He discovered that, while Netflix, HBO Go and Hulu all counted toward his monthly bandwidth cap, Xfinity, oddly, did not. Soon after, Brian Berg also publicized the results of an experiment in traffic prioritization that seemed to weigh heavily in favor of Comcast's own traffic.

Comcast finally weighed about a month after Hastings' Facebook post appeared, saying that they, Comcast, wasn't prioritizing traffic, but rather that they considered the Xfinity app on Xbox 360 systems to be almost like an ancillary cable box. Their network traffic, they said, was "above and beyond and distinct from" regular network traffic, and since they were merely using Internet traffic to distribute video that they would have distributed over their cable service, it didn't fall under the FCC's Open Internet rules of operation. Comcast further elaborated that using Xfinity services on the iPad app and similar versions would have counted toward the bandwidth cap, and as such, they did not "prioritize traffic".

While this may sound like double-talk -- TechCrunch referred to it as a "non-denial denial" -- it may be a point enough to keep the FCC from landing on them. Some, however, believe that FCC intervention may well be in Comcast's immediate future.

Though it's not hard to look at the situation and be confused; surely Internet traffic is Internet traffic, whether it's delivering content from Xfinity on Xbox 360 or Netflix on Xbox 360, so why should one traffic be regulated while a second skates on by? After all, haven't we been hearing endless litanies, from Comcast, of how hard it is to provide bandwidth to users? Surely the network is just as strained by Xfinity content as it is by Hulu Plus content!

But in the short term, barring FCC intervention, the end result will be clear: to misquote Animal Farm, some bandwidth is more equal than its counterparts.




Edited by Rich Steeves

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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