Is Comcast prioritizing its packets? Are they running over a network separate from their internet service? Are they violating the terms agreed to as part of the NBCU purchase? Lots of stuff out there right now that contradicts itself, but the underlying problem is perhaps the that the industry’s vocabulary is just not up to the task.
For instance, the word ‘network’ can mean anything from 400 count fiber and conduit up to a couple of routers hooked up to a leased line. A ‘data center’ can be anything from a a regeneration hut to a huge carrier hotel campus to a single cage in a data center contained within another data center contained within… Well you get the idea, and these aren’t the only fuzzy words by a longshot. So when we ask the question ‘Is Comcast prioritizing traffic on its network?’, the answer depends on whose definitions you are working with.
Comcast swears that everything they’re doing complies with net neutrality, and that their packets travel over a separate network, a dedicated IP path. Engineers looking at the traffic see nothing but a QoS tag differentiating their Xfinity TV traffic from the rest. Comcast says it’s not treating the traffic differently, the tags are just for bookkeeping. But by bookkeeping they mean the very separation that allows them to claim that net neutrality does not apply, for without the QoS tags there is no separate network.
If the network and service are divisible into arbitrary virtual pieces to be regulated differently, then Comcast can surely do what it wants. And perhaps logically there can never be net neutrality in a system where we already accept that cable tv traffic is logically but not physically separate from internet access over the same pipes. As Asimov put it in one of his books, sometimes only zero and one make sense – existence and non-existence. You either have a pipe or you don’t. If your pipe is ‘two’, then it is also simply ‘many’.
Everyone’s right given their own definitions. Comcast’s definitions are designed to slip between the intent and the letter of the law, or regulation in this case I suppose. The other side’s definitions are designed to make those rules as widely applicable as possible, to make it possible to fight whatever injustice is currently being perpetrated. Until the guys who make the rules get involved and decide what their own words mean, everyone will be talking past each other. But given the state of our fuzzy technical vocabulary, I doubt anyone will ever fully clarify anything.
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