Cable giant Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA, news, filings) angered network neutrality supporters this week by saying that usage of its new Xfinity TV service on the Xbox 360 service won’t count against subscribers’ 250Gb bandwidth caps. The fear is that this gives their streaming service an advantage over the Over-The-Top competition, e.g. Netflix. And it obviously does. But none of this should really surprise anyone, the past few quarters of network neutrality peace have been merely a temporary lull in the storm.
Comcast has always had a fast lane that runs on the private half of its last mile pipes. It’s called Cable TV, and it doesn’t count against caps either – even if you leave the TV on 24 hours a day for the full month. By claiming the XBox is like a cable set top, they can simply run the streaming video on the other side of the fence, the protocol they’re using is beside the point.
That protocol is IP though, and that makes it look a whole lot like the bandwidth that does get capped. If they can do this, then they can just put anything they want on the private IP side of things and not count it against the caps and it’s an instant fast lane – no throttling required. That’s what has the net neutrality guys so worked up. If one device can do private, uncapped IP, so can any other that Comcast wants to sell itself. This is bandwidth that Comcast *could* use for its public pipes, but is choosing not to do so. They can choose not to do so more often.
But it’s not clear what opponents can do about it. The loopholes in the FCC’s Open Internet rules have always been huge — it’s only popular opposition that keeps service providers from driving trucks through them. Make no mistake, Comcast meant to make this move. They seem to have judged the present environment to be ready for such a move. We’ll see I guess.