updated 11:00 pm EDT, Mon April 16, 2012
Netflix may spur FCC action on Comcast neutrality
A commentary by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings may have brought official FCC scrutiny on Comcast for its cap exemption of Xfinity TV on the Xbox 360. He argued that Comcast was violating net neutrality principles by giving its own service a 'free' pass while applying the cap to competing services, including not just his own Netflix but HBO Go and Hulu Plus as well. After being asked by the Wall Street Journal, the FCC said it "takes seriously" allegations of violations like these and was following what was going on.
The agency didn't say if it was launching a more formal investigation. Comcast hadn't commented on Hastings' view. Previously, it had maintained that Xfinity TV's use of a private IP network on the cable system, rather than Internet access, exempted it from the cap.
FCC officials might have grounds for action. Under its net neutrality rules, it can act not just on attempts to block or slow down competing services but other methods that artificially "constrict or fail to continue expanding" bandwidth. When the rules were formed, they were specifically aware of instances where a cable, fiber, or similar TV provider might try to use an internal service as an end-run around neutrality rules and devote a disproportionate amount of priority to that service rather than putting Internet video on equal footing.
At 250GB a month, Comcast's bandwidth cap is high enough that most users won't run into the ceiling, but it's most likely to become a problem for the mounting cord-cutter population, many of whom may not just be watching streaming video but in HD video that can consume 2GB or more of data an hour. To Hastings, however, the treatment didn't make sense as it would treat the same content differently, simply because of which app was launched.
"If I watch last night's SNL episode on my Xbox through the Hulu app, it eats up about one gigabyte of my cap, but if I watch that same episode through the Xfinity Xbox app, it doesn't use up my cap at all," he said. "The same device, the same IP address, the same wifi [sic], the same internet connection, but totally different cap treatment. In what way is this neutral?"