As Net Neutrality Repeal Nears, Comcast's Promise To Avoid 'Paid Prioritization' Disappears

from the that-was-then,-this-is-now dept

Despite having spent millions on repealing broadband privacy and soon net neutrality, Comcast's lobbyists and PR folks have spent the last few weeks claiming that nobody has anything to worry about because Comcast would never do anything to harm consumers or competitors. This glorified pinky swear is likely going to be cold comfort for the millions of consumers, small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs trying to build something (or god forbid directly compete with Comcast NBC Universal) over the next decade.

But while Comcast is busy trying to convince everyone that gutting regulatory oversight over an uncompetitive broadband market will only result in wonderful things, they're simultaneously back peddling on past claims to not violate net neutrality.

Earlier this week, Ars Technica penned an article discussing how Comcast's past promises to not engage in "paid prioritization" have magically disappeared. Paid prioritization is the act of letting one company (say, Comcast-owned NBC) buy a faster, lower-latency pipe than its competitors. Obviously, such a scenario creates a market whereby deep-pocketed companies can pay for an unfair advantage over startups, non-profits, or smaller companies. That's not to be confused with enterprise prioritization or the prioritization of medical services, though that's a conflation Comcast lobbyists really enjoy making.

Back in 2014 when the debate was at its peak regarding the creation of the 2015 rules, Comcast repeatedly promised that paid prioritization would never be something it engaged in. Ars does a solid job highlighting how this promise has all-but disappeared from Comcast and Comcast-backed NCTA lobbying and policy materials over the last few years. This apparently angered Comcast PR rep Sena Fitzmaurice, who has previously and repeatedly yelled at me for calling Comcast's top lobbyist a lobbyist (you're supposed to call him Comcast's "Chief Diversity Officer" to help him tap dance around lobbying disclosure rules).

Fitzmaurice spent most of the day on Twitter trying to direct annoyed readers to an alternate, less skeptical CNET article, while insisting that Ars story author Jon Brodkin had somehow hallucinated Comcast's backtracking:

Brodkin, in turn, pointed out that Fitzmaurice repeatedly dodged hard questions about said backtracking, while hiding behind semantics:

He then penned a second article, with the help of the Internet Wayback Machine, highlighting very clearly how Comcast pulled all references to its promise to not engage in "paid prioritization." Much of this purging occurred, coincidentally, the very same day that Ajit Pai first announced his plan to roll back the net neutrality protections:

"Starting in 2014, (Comcast's website) contained this statement: "Comcast doesn't prioritize Internet traffic or create paid fast lanes."

That statement remained on the page until April 26 of this year, according to page captures from the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine. But on April 27, the paid prioritization pledge was nowhere to be found on that page and remains absent now.

What changed? It was on April 26 that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the first version of his plan to eliminate net neutrality rules. Since then, Pai has finalized his repeal plan, and the FCC will vote to drop the rules on December 14.

To drive home the point, Brodkin posted a screen shot of the Comcast website pledge before the FCC announced its repeal of the rules on April 27:

And then after the FCC made it clear it was going to ignore the public and dismantle the rules:

You'll note, perhaps, that Comcast's promises get shorter and shorter the closer it gets to achieving its goal of fewer consumer protections. Oddly, Fitzmaurice has yet to complain about the updated version of the Ars story.

Comcast's track record on this sort of thing isn't particularly hot. You'll recall Comcast helped send the net neutrality debate into overdrive when it was caught throttling all upstream BitTorrent traffic without telling anybody, then lied that it was doing so until the Associated Press proved it. In the years since Comcast has gotten much more creative in abusing a lack of competition in the sector, whether that's by imposing unnecessary usage caps that only its own content is exempt from, blocking competing hardware and services for no good reason, or interconnection shenanigans.

The idea that Comcast will take full advantage of the one two-punch of limited competition and apathetic regulators is all but a certainty according to history. It's likely that for a year or two after repeal, Comcast and other ISPs will avoid getting too heavy handed in the hopes of convincing folks that net neutrality worries were over-stated. After that, you can be fairly certain that Comcast will slowly but surely engage in tricks old and new to leverage a lack of competition to its full, tactical advantage. You can also be fairly certain that while this is happening, you'll be told you're most definitely hallucinating the entire affair.

Filed Under: net neutrality, paid prioritization, rewriting history
Companies: comcast

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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Dec 2017 @ 7:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    One and the same. Rules not going far enough means the rules are the problem.

    In that there's not enough of them, sure, yet for some strange reason I suspect that you would not be in favor of more rules.

    the problem is that you are calling free market evil and regulators salt of the earth good.

    Coming from someone who believes that companies should be able to do anything they want with no oversight or regulations to restrain them I suppose I can't be surprised you would believe this of others.

    (Now I know what you might be thinking, 'That's not my position!', to which my response is 'Yes, it absolutely is', in the very same way that that 'free market=evil' and 'regulations=good' is the position of those here who you so vehemently disagree with.)

    It just is not true. consumers must have the capacity to pick any ISP they want or Become their OWN ISP if they so desire.

    Ah yes, that reminds me, I need to finish laying out the last section of concrete for the runway so I can start advertising my own airline. Which of course was a trivial undertaking, but if it means I can avoid the current companies in the field, well, it had to be done clearly.

    Competition would solve a lot of the problem, but given the high barrier to entry and the predatory/defensive nature of the current companies in the market it's been made crystal clear that it isn't going to happen any time soon, and is going to require strict rules in place to allow competition and keep the current players from stomping anyone who tries flat.

    That is the solution. Not some FCC clown like suck bawls Pai telling me what choices I am going to get!

    Pai's a problem because he's a tool of the telecom companies to the point that he might as well preface any press releases he makes with 'This content sponsored by Verizon, Comcast and AT&T'. Those same companies that will screw you over even more than they currently are if the rules keeping them in check(poorly to be sure, but again that's largely on Pai and his breathless support of them) are struck down and replaced with... let's see, rules that are quite likely to be literally written by the telecom companies and will have loopholes that make the current ones look like pinholes in comparison, enforced by an agency(the FTC) that is overworked and lacks any sort of rule making ability such that the best they can do is hand out fines based upon the rules presented.

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