Is Comcast Thumbing Its Nose At FCC's Open Internet Rules By Exempting Xbox VOD From Data Cap?

from the sure-seems-that-way dept

As was somewhat expected, this week Comcast announced its plans to offer Xfinity video on demand via the Xbox 360... which will require customers to subscribe to both Xfinity TV and the broadband service, meaning that this isn't a solution for getting around your cable subscription (of course, because Comcast doesn't want you ditching your cable TV). But what's getting much more attention is the announcement that such streaming video won't count against Comcasts' broadband caps, raising some significant questions concerning whether or not Comcast is following the FCC's open internet rules -- the same rules that were put in place to stop Comcast from degrading certain services in favor of others. Comcast, for it part, insists that the rules don't apply to this VOD service, since it's coming over its private network, rather than the public internet, but it's certainly tiptoeing along a fairly fine line. I think the bigger issue is why the cap exists in the first place. But, in the long run, Comcast is definitely trying to back its way into being able set up "most favored nation" status with certain providers, which really does impinge on the internet's basic end-to-end principles.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 7:32pm

    No good deed goes unpunished.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 27th, 2012 @ 7:49pm

    And when AT&T talked about doing this plan did they stop?
    Or did the put into place 150 gig limits on DSL, and 250 gig limits on uverse, with uverse content not supposed to be counted towards that.

     

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      Mike C. (profile), Mar 27th, 2012 @ 9:28pm

      Re:

      While they may have theoretically implemented usage caps, I would be surprised is many people have actually been affected yet. I have U-Verse and have had it since 2009. However, when I follow the AT&T link to check my usage, I get this:

      Note: Your usage is not yet available for display. You should not be concerned about your usage for billing purposes. AT&T will keep you informed about your data usage via email.

      To learn more about how to manage your usage, please visit www.att.com/internet-usage.


      While I don't have a Netflix account, I do regularly watch videos via YouTube, Vimeo, Apple Trailers, etc. I also work from home via VPN and transfer sizeable files (200M - 1G+) over the connection on a regular basis. Add in the other 10+ internet connected devices in the house and I'm certainly not a low-usage customer. To date, I've received zero notices regarding my usage.

       

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        That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 28th, 2012 @ 1:38am

        Re: Re:

        They might have backed off the plan at some point, there were some serious issues with the system giving inaccurate readings.
        It was mostly users who said anything, the people watching out for "us" were awfully quiet.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 6:19am

        Re: Re:

        Are their competing services in your area? I hear they are much more lax about caps when people have other options and much more uptight in areas where they are the only game in town.

         

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    Herp Derp, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 8:07pm

    This could be breaking net neutrality rules only if you have no idea how the technology works. The xbox isnt being served video from the internet, its being served video from a server on their own private network.

    So the bandwidth cap is for internet usage, not streaming video from a server that's not on the internet. Its the same principle on how their voip system works. Should the FCC becoming down on them that their VOIP service doesn't count toward their usage limit?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 8:26pm

      Re:

      the only technical bottleneck is the last mile.

       

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      Nathan F (profile), Mar 27th, 2012 @ 8:28pm

      Re:

      Except they were complaining that it was last mile congestion that required them to impliment the data caps, ie the traffic that was inside of the sections Comcast activly controls and maintains. Is their network suddenly not congested and is there still a need for the data caps?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 9:04pm

      Re:

      Valid points, which Mike did mention in the article if you bothered to read it.

       

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      PRMan, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 7:29am

      Re:

      But don't services like Netflix and YouTube go through Akamai? And isn't Akamai's claim to fame that they install servers WITHIN ISPs? So are they also exempt?

       

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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Mar 27th, 2012 @ 8:25pm

    Have to agree with Herp Derp here. If they were offering to lift the cap for select services outside their own network that would be one thing but they're not.

    There are no Internet issues involved here at all since no traffic ever leaves or enters their network. It's essentially the same as saying to you or I that what we do with our LAN is anyone else's business.

     

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      Cowardly Anonymous, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 10:02pm

      Re:

      Not exactly. Their service and the internet services flowing over their network will have direct crossover effects in terms of congestion. In other words, internet services could be prevented from freely competing with their service because of these caps.

      If we were talking about a healthy competing market for internet service, they would lose subscribers who preferred the internet-based streaming over the local net streaming. However, the nature of the market is such that many of those subscribers have very few options.

      The fear is that all of those very few ISPs could implement such services and move to increasing restrictions on open internet (favoring their services). This would lead to a fundamental breakdown of what makes the internet what it is as more services moved to private networks out of necessity.

      This move, and others like it, indicate ISPs that don't respect the nature of the internet and whom are trying whatever they can to encroach upon it. They are trying to get their foot in the door, and slamming it shut is very important to making sure they don't try to go farther next fiscal cycle.

      Note that this is very much like when the US Congress passes a law that kind of, but not really, while maybe tramples your rights, and is why the wording of the Bill of Rights has a lot of "Congress shall make no law." The state of US law right now has trampled all over several amendments, citing technicalities and court cases, because there were no immediate backlashes that would even think of entering that ground.

      Intent is as important as the letter of the law. If the regulations technically allow this, we need to update the regulation to close the loophole, not let them get away with it. No, we won't punish them for the behavior, not unless it continues past the update. That is all the protection a technicality should provide, however.

       

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        abc gum, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 5:08am

        Re: Re:

        In addition, there are antitrust considerations here. Will ISPs be added to the long list of entities which are exempt?

        banks
        health insurance
        major league sports
        agricultural coops
        unions

        There is a verifiable lack of competition in the ISP marketplace which puts ISPs under scrutiny with regard to antitrust violations. The service being provided by said ISP is required in day to day activities and one cannot simply go elsewhere. Using this monopoly to their advantage, the ISP risks being subjected to anti trust hearings and government regulation. I'm sure they are well aware if this and therefore have placed their sock puppets loaded with cash in strategic locations. We can all expect to see their eventual attempt at exemption in the very near future.

         

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        The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Mar 28th, 2012 @ 7:03am

        Re: Re:

        You have some valid points but monopolistic practices are more of an FTC than an FCC issue. I'd prefer the FCC not try to get involved in setting anti-trust policy; they're even less qualified than Congress.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 8:48pm

    So Comcast is, for once in its history, offering a service that is beneficial to its customers and this is a bad thing?

     

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      Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 27th, 2012 @ 8:58pm

      Re:

      making the leap to assuming it'll be beneficial, useful (or work) is kind of a big one in my opinion.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 6:51am

      Re:

      What is beneficial about being able to watch VOD on my xbox instead of my cable box both of which are hooked up to the same TV?

       

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        Michael Becker (profile), Mar 28th, 2012 @ 8:25am

        Re: Re:

        I've been wondering the same thing. I finally got the app to work last night after hearing it was how HBO GO content could be accessed by Comcast subscribers. Of course they were wrong, so this app offers nothing, and we still can't use HBO GO.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 9:09pm

    This is clearly a way to route around net neutrality rules, and it would be ok if there was more competition inside that market where there is none at the moment.

    American consumers have the worst companies in the world, so it is no surprise that most American companies can't compete outside the US, this is the kind of thing that make people seek furiously for an alternative.

     

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    LDoBe, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 9:24pm

    Internet providers

    I used to take my Xbox to friend's houses all the time for lan parties. I didn't want to pay for live.

    My question is if the streampix app would work on a friend's fios or centurylink connection.

    I'd already be paying for home connectivity and ugh streampix but I doubt it'd work on other isp networks. I thought portability was one of the fundamental rights of data access

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 9:33pm

    Government established communication infrastructure monopolies need to end.

     

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    Nigel (profile), Mar 27th, 2012 @ 10:13pm

    I recently had a free internet account because my roomate worked for a local ISP. It came to my attention that I topped the bandwidth usage, month one, for the entire area(I told them I was honored lol).

    That said, I beat the crap out of my current Comcast account and have never had an issue.

    Actually, now that I think about it, that ISP was one of a few to not fold like a lawn chair in terms of user privacy so props to them...

    http://www.citmedialaw.org/blog/2011/isp-gets-identity-seeking-subpoena-vacated?utm_source=feedb urner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CitizenMediaLawProject+%28Citizen+Media+Law+Proje ct%29

    Nigel

     

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    Greevar (profile), Mar 27th, 2012 @ 10:24pm

    We need a Glass-Steagal for the internet.

    There needs to be some type of separation of ISP's and content distribution companies. When the two mix together, they have a conflict of interest that hurts the public. Cable providers should not be running ISP's and neither should the telecoms. An ISP should be an ISP and nothing else. It should be a dumb pipe that only shapes traffic to maintain efficiency.

    Cable and phone are anachronisms today. We don't need either because we have the internet and mobile communication devices. One day, there won't be a "cable network" or a "phone/cell network". There will only be "the network" and all the devices that can attach to it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 10:32pm

    This whole thing is sort of blown out of proportion... If I have a file on my home NAS system I can distribute it between my computers freely. If I want to send it to my office via the Internet then I need to pay for the right to transmit it. This same theory applies to ISP's. If they want to host video on their network then it doesn't cost them anything beyond the obvious copyrights/servers etc. This is the exact same idea as IPTV and I don't see huge fuss over that. Or a cable network that uses their cable for internet and TV both... However, if the consumer wants to bring in something else then they are paying bandwidth costs. So I wonder what costs them more the copyright or the bandwidth?

     

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      Greevar (profile), Mar 27th, 2012 @ 11:27pm

      Re:

      But this has a real impact on the internet in terms of fair competition. They are still using the last mile connection of their network, which is also the same lines the internet service uses. The bandwidth the internet services uses is capped, while on the same last mile connection the XBox is not capped. They're limiting stuff that comes from the internet compared to the data they serve from their own network. That's like having a bar that has its own brand of beer. There's no limit on how many of the bar brand you can buy, but you can only buy 10 bottles of the other brands in total. What's more is that this bar is the only bar within a 100 mile radius. It's giving preferential treatment to one brand at the detriment of all the others. If nothing else, it's a violation of antitrust regulation. It's anti-competitive and limits customer choice even more.

       

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    Yakko Warner (profile), Mar 28th, 2012 @ 12:14am

    I'm at my limit now

    Funny, I saw this and was looking forward to trying it out. But I discovered recently that we already managed to hit the 250GB limit this month, and we still have a week to go. I don't want to hook my Xbox up just to download the app, let alone watch video with it (assuming I trusted their exemption). When my Xbox is on, it downloads more than just the video I want to watch. There are video ads that play in small sections of the dashboard, cover art for games when I view my game list, constant status updates for everyone on my friends list...

    I wouldn't be nearly as paranoid about it and pulling network cables out of my devices if it weren't for Comcast's absurd policy of completely cutting off people who go over the limit.

    The only other viable alternative around here is Century Link, who has the same 250GB limit. I'm not sure what their policy on overages is (funny how they don't make that info easy to find), reviews from around here indicate their customer service is worse than Comcast.

     

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      Michael Becker (profile), Mar 28th, 2012 @ 8:23am

      Re: I'm at my limit now

      I see you live in Seattle too? I've been getting tired of hearing Microsoft and Xbox touting how great this service and HBO GO are when the Xfinity app doesn't offer anything not already on your cable box, and the HBO GO app doesn't even work. I can't believe they released the HBO GO app and it doesn't work with the nations largest ISP. THAT is some scamming crap right there, since y'know they advertise it and we pay for it.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 12:21am

    So I take it then that Comcast will surely no longer count P2P traffic and game traffic when the it stays solely on Comcast's network towards the cap since traffic on their network doesn't need to be capped.

    Right?
    Right???

     

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    Chris, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 2:05am

    Here's where Comcast gets it's fat cash. It encourages you to watch the video on their "internal network" which by the way uses the exact same line you and everyone else paid for access to the home, and then it riddles them with ads, then tells you that the videos on their "internal network" are exempt from the internet rules of downloading so that way when they start cutting people off they can claim they're still providing enough of a service to make it worth it and that some people just need to control their downloads.

    None of this would be a talking point if comcast would just upgrade their network to handle the users, their greed speaks louder every time they try a new PR stunk. It's good news, in theory, but it's a constant reminder that they put a limit on the amount of "unlimited" internets they give you. I'd be angry if they said they were going to exempt youtube videos of cats on the same grounds. They should have to play by their own rules or admit the limits are arbitrary and designed only to target people who use as much as the service as they can. Why shouldn't it be the ISP's responsibility not to give that customer too large of a pipe? Unless they can prove someone's maliciously abusing their network in a way that damages their equipment they should have to legally back off. The more they try and control what I can and cannot see with the cable money I gave them for a service the less I think this company has any right to exist.

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Mar 28th, 2012 @ 4:15am

    Well they are getting creative

    I have to admit that the Telcos and the Cable companies are getting creative in how they lie to us.

    They used to just stick with "network congestion" as the reason to impose data caps. Then I guess someone realized that they keep saying there's too much traffic as they are trying to roll out more traffic (video), which sets up the situation of : If there is too much traffic already then why are you adding much much more, since the networks can't handle what is already there ???

    Ummmm yeah... ummm .. Our private network, that's it. Our private network can handle all the traffic that you pay a lot for. Why don't we just use our private network to eliminate your data caps since you are our customer? Ummmm... hmmm... we'll get back to you on that.

     

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      abc gum, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 5:26am

      Re: Well they are getting creative

      To say they lie is an understatement.

      Will Comcast further compress their existing video in order to make room for the new data? As much as they would like to think their "private network" has unlimited bandwidth, the laws of the physical world say otherwise.

      The whole premise for "bw caps" was due to congestion within the last mile, what - that was not true? - say it isn't so ... lol.

      This is a train wreck in slow motion.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 6:49am

        Re: Re: Well they are getting creative

        "This is a train wreck in slow motion."

        Slow motion? I bet Comcast is throttling it.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 6:23am

    Wait. So now I have a TV with an xbox and a cable box but now I get to choose whether to watch the on-demand service with either the xbox OR the cable box! WOW thats neat....or pointless I forget. "Hey you know that content you can already watch on your cable box? Well now you can watch it on your xbox too, which is innovative even though they are probably both hooked up to the same TV and you still have to pay for the cable box."

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 6:24am

    If you can't cut the feet off of the crowd to tower over them then raise yourself up. Translated to Comcastee: if we can't cut bandwidth to our competition then lets cut it for everyone, except us of course.

     

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    Digger, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 7:00am

    Traceroute?

    Has anyone traced the route the packets take to get from the *source* to the xbox??? anyone?
    Does it indeed never traverse the *regular* internet?

    ie - via internet from central repository to their distribution nodes, then and only then, on the final leg to their consumer over their last-mile connection?

     

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    Brandon, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 9:08am

    Doesn't matter

    Considering every time I tried to access the app on my Xbox yesterday I kept getting an error message stating the Xfinity servers were temporarily unavailable, it doesn't seem to matter much. Then again, apparently their servers can't handle the traffic on launch day. Not a good sign.

     

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    AnonCow, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    The problem is when the subscription rate for this new service doesn't meet Comcast budget plans. Then the executive for the subscription service calls the executive for the ISP services and says, "Hey, cutting the bandwidth cap would really help uptake on this new subscription plan...."

    Two weeks later, Comcast issues a press release stating that increased usage by a "pirates" that are "stealing" copy written content along with pedophiles downloading kiddie porn have forced them to reduce the caps by 50%.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2012 @ 2:37pm

    This is the beginning of the tiered plans for web usage. It starts like this and before you know it youtube is a premium channel and the internet looks a lot more like a cable tv package. They're very aware of what they are doing.

     

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      abc gum, Mar 29th, 2012 @ 5:42am

      Re:

      "This is the beginning of the tiered plans for web usage. It starts like this and before you know it youtube is a premium channel and the internet looks a lot more like a cable tv package. They're very aware of what they are doing."

      They may be aware of what they want to do, however the rule of unintended consequences has other plans. Just look to AOL for an example of the "Walled Garden" business plan failure.

       

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