Broadband

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
data caps, fcc, net neutrality, streaming, zero rating

Companies:
comcast



Comcast Tests Net Neutrality By Letting Its Own Streaming Service Bypass Usage Caps

from the special-treatment dept

By now, Comcast's strategy for fighting internet video competition is very clear. For one, the company is slowly but surely expanding usage caps into dozens of new markets. In these ever-expanding areas, Comcast imposes a 300 GB usage cap, then charges users $10 for every 50 GB of extra data they consume. Comcast's also now testing a new wrinkle wherein users have the option of paying another $30 to $35 if they want unlimited data. In short, the option to have the same unlimited connection they had yesterday will cost these users significantly more.

But recently, Comcast's other spoke in this strategy started to reveal itself. The company is slowly but surely expanding a creatively named streaming video service named Stream. Stream provides Comcast broadband-only users a $15 service that includes live TV, video on demand, and HBO, and it's Comcast's way of trying to keep would-be cord cutters in house. Here's the kicker though: Comcast's new streaming service doesn't count against Comcast user usage caps:
"We asked Comcast today if Stream TV usage will count against the 300GB data plans imposed in certain parts of Comcast's territory. "No, Stream is an IP cable service delivered over our managed network to the home," a Comcast spokesperson replied.

Comcast also pointed Ars to an (sic) FAQ that says, "Stream TV is a cable streaming service delivered over Comcast's cable system, not over the Internet. Therefore, Stream TV data usage will not be counted towards your Xfinity Internet monthly data usage."
In short, Comcast's trying to argue that this isn't a net neutrality violation because the service spends significantly more time traveling over Comcast's managed IP infrastructure instead of the public Internet. It's the same excuse Comcast gave back in 2012, when it was criticized for exempting its streaming service via the Xbox 360 from usage caps. The move resulted in some pointed criticism by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who declared that Comcast was "no longer following net neutrality principles" and the company "should apply caps equally, or not at all." The FCC, however, did nothing.

Of course since then, Comcast has deployed its usage caps to significantly more households. Its caps now cover an estimated 12% of its userbase, and the company shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, with dozens more markets slated for caps on December 1. There were some vague rumors the FCC was watching Comcast's cap expansion plans carefully, but so far the FCC has done nothing.

Unlike 2012, we also now have some actual net neutrality rules in place. The problem, as we've noted a few times, is they don't specifically ban zero rating, but insist the FCC will look at examples of bad behavior on a "case by case" basis. That opens the door -- as we're seeing with T-Mobile -- for carriers to violate net neutrality, if they're just clever enough about it.

It's unclear when exactly the FCC intends to step in to actually enforce the rules it fought (and is still fighting in court) so hard for. Consumer groups like Public Knowledge say they already have a complaint pending with the FCC, and are waiting for the FCC to stop napping:
As it stands, our shiny new net neutrality rules may not be worth all that much if regulators aren't willing to use them.

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  • icon
    Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 23 Nov 2015 @ 11:56am

    A streaming service named "Stream"!

    How creative! Before you know it Comcast will have a beer brand named "alcohol", assuming "Beer" has already been trademarked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 Nov 2015 @ 12:06pm

      Re: A streaming service named "Stream"!

      Maybe they're planning a mega-merger with Microsoft, a company that's famous for creating a window-based graphical OS called Windows and a word processor called Word.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Kal Zekdor (profile), 23 Nov 2015 @ 3:52pm

        Re: Re: A streaming service named "Stream"!

        Well, to be fair, the common naming style for '80s Computer Software was short, descriptive names. It was still a new industry, so there wasn't much confusion. They weren't marketing decisions like "Stream". Even today a fair amount of Linux software follows that paradigm.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 12:01pm

    This will help drive services like Netflix out of business which will then enable ISPs to charge a whole lot more for their own subscription services.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 2:56pm

      Re:

      it will never drive Netflix out of business there to powerful now

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 3:16pm

        Re: Re:

        Honestly just to help other people understand what was intended:

        "It will never drive Netflix out of business. They are too powerful now."

        Companies like Netflix should easily be able to take Comcast to international trade court. This would be easy to prove in that kind of magical damage figure arena. I'm sure it will be settled out of court only to be followed by a flood of copycats. Eventually they will be forced to abandon the whole capping idea otherwise small unlimited service providers will become cost effective enough to erode more than half of Comcast's current market share.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Socrates, 24 Nov 2015 @ 4:40am

          International trade court

          ISDS and its ilk is a measure to leech resources from the citizens common pool of assets, and give them to multinational corporations without any democratic oversight at all.

          Comcast is a corporation so it is exempt from this.

          So your suggestion wouldn't work.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Phillip (profile), 23 Nov 2015 @ 12:05pm

    Old news

    I've been complaining about this for years since I'm in one of the original "test" markets and sent in complaints before and after the Net neutrality rules, maybe they'll actually do something as more people complain, but any one citizen just gets ignored.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 12:08pm

    nickel and dime

    "In these ever-expanding areas, Comcast imposes a 300 GB usage cap, then charges users $10 for every 50 GB of extra data they consume. Comcast's also now testing a new wrinkle wherein users have the option of paying another $30 to $35 if they want unlimited data"

    It might not be too bad if users were notified that they'd reached the limit and had to personally authorize additional blocks of bandwidth. Unfortunately, many companies employ usage caps as a sort of "gotcha" when they clobber customers with a huge bill they never saw coming. Hopefully people who reach $30 or $35 in excess-bandwidth charges will automatically be placed in the "unlimited" service category for that month and won't be charged any more. That's assuming that the company is halfway ethical, but many aren't and will force customers to carefully traverse a minefield of 'service' charges (and various other hoops to jump through) if they want to keep costs from exploding on them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 12:13pm

    From a technical standpoint, I can see them using a DOCSIS3/3.1 channel to bypass usage restrictions much like on demand already has. Do I agree with the resolution, of course not, I don't even see the need for caps besides another money grab in light of the ongoing oligopoly. As Comcast is consistently rated the worst company in the United States, you would think the FCC would recognize that their power is from lack of competition and regulatory capture by now and actually start a plan to fix the underlying issues. (i.e. build a competitive market place)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    A Non-Mouse, 23 Nov 2015 @ 12:26pm

    Lies, lies, & more lies

    "Stream TV is a cable streaming service delivered over Comcast's cable system, not over the Internet."

    This is an outright lie. The immediately preceding answer in the FAQ states that only some of the channels are unavailable when you're away from home (i.e. "on the internet") and they are actively working to make more & more channels available. This anti-competitive tactic couldn't be more blatant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 1:20pm

      Re: Lies, lies, & more lies

      This is a classic anti-trust violation. Comcast should be being reamed int he ass and over the coals for this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ThatDevilTech (profile), 23 Nov 2015 @ 2:51pm

        Re: Re: Lies, lies, & more lies

        I've been wondering why the antitrust or anti-monopoly laws haven't been getting used against the big ISP's. The government broke up Ma Bell back in the day and it seems like we're heading back in that direction again. They could argue that it's not a true monopoly because there "are" other ISP's out there, but they're regional monopolies that should NOT exist in my opinion. They need to go. Every city, town, rural area should have at least two options for ISP's, no excuses.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 3:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: Lies, lies, & more lies

          "The government broke up Ma Bell back in the day and it seems like we're heading back in that direction again"

          Actually, the trend started while the Bell breakup was still being fought in court. Deregulation of everything from banks on down, union-busting, relaxing minimum wage laws, corporate welfare, lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy, relaxing of anti-trust laws, relaxing of corporate ownership laws ... these were one of the (other) hallmarks of the 1980s, when the telecommunication monopoly was (finally) broken up. Of course, the American people were repeatedly promised that removing a century's worth of controls and allowing unrestrained (and taxpayer nurtured) capitalism would create vast wealth that would "trickle down" to everyone -- a prediction that was exactly half right.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 12:38pm

    Hello FCC

    Are you going to do what you said you were going to do and protect the consumers?

    Of course you are... not!!!!

    I sit back and wait to see if they are actually going to do a damn thing.

    Meanwhile the entire content generating sector no longer worries about bandwidth limits. Back when we had 56k site kept fluff to a minimum because no one wants a slow site. Now, people are going to be billed for sites they visit that load them down with video based adds that eat up even more of that finite bandwidth while the customer is double stuffed for it all.

    The FCC needs to force Comcast (or any other ISP for that matter) to prominently display usage limits of ANY and EVERY kind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 12:59pm

    Comcast would never be brave enough to try this if it wasn't for T-Mobile doing it first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 23 Nov 2015 @ 1:21pm

    Why this is unfair

    Some people will say: but Comcast is giving you something for free, why complain?

    Because what Comcast is doing is anti competitive. Designed to hurt all its competitors.

    If Comcast is willing to give that bandwidth for free, then just give it to me with no conditions attached that I must watch Comcast's streaming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 3:35pm

    Do they have an accurate meter available to their users?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Johnny5k (profile), 23 Nov 2015 @ 6:32pm

    So Comcast is keeping their proprietary, non-public ("Comcast's cable system") pipeline nice and fat, so their streaming service will always be higher quality than their competitors running over their own public internet lines. But, it's all the same cable, is it not? Couldn't they allocate more bandwidth to the public internet line, and pipe their own service over that instead? Which in turn would create more bandwidth on the public line, and less "need" for data caps. If it is technically possible, it just shows a stronger case for how anticompetitive they're being. And if they converted all their content to streaming (like Google Fiber), how much faster could our internet access be, without even needing to upgrade the lines?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 23 Nov 2015 @ 7:15pm

      Re:

      But, it's all the same cable, is it not? Couldn't they allocate more bandwidth to the public internet line, and pipe their own service over that instead?

      It's all the same cable coming into your house, but upstream of that somewhere it comes from different places.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 7:00pm

    In short, Comcast's trying to argue that this isn't a net neutrality violation because the service spends significantly more time traveling over Comcast's managed IP infrastructure instead of the public Internet.


    so....

    can I setup a streaming service from my comcast-based IP to my local comcast friends? and stream HD Video? I would create the content...but make it UHD. And allow my local friends to watch the video?

    no. we would be charged with excessive bandwidth

    and this is where the net-neutrality violation part comes in.

    I can't just make a Steam service and let it compete.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2015 @ 7:59pm

    Semantics

    If an employer decided to fire all of their non-white employees, would that be OK? No? OK, then, how about they just fire everyone, but then "exempt" the whites. Hey, that's not discriminatory because they fired everyone! (except the the ones they exempted, of course). I somehow doubt the EEOC would go along with that.

    That's the kind of semantic game Comcast, T-mobile and such are playing with their data "exemptions". And so far the FCC has gone right along with it. I guess the FCC doesn't have quite the balls of the EEOC.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Socrates, 24 Nov 2015 @ 4:32am

    Elon Musk (of Tesla fame) got a huge cheer from the crowd when he said
    "In cases where people are stuck with Time Warner or Comcast, this would provide an opportunity to leave".
    They must be truly hated.


    When will the citizens of USA take their democracy back and roll out municipality broadband on a national scale?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    No Name for No use, 24 Nov 2015 @ 6:24am

    I don't know what everyone expected

    The intertubes are now so integrated into everyone's lives that it has become like housing or food all the captive markets, you pay because the market is not determined by competition but by extortion, since virtually no one actually owns anything anymore you have to pay or be dead mostly, since going off grid or opting out is impossible for the vast majority of people, that's Fascism, the Axis won WWII ideologically to people willing to lie, cheat, steal, extort and murder, 40 years of propaganda about the scary ruskies and then another 40 years of propaganda about bootstrappiness and the magic of the market.. Lies are still lies but it no longer matters that we believe them.

    The prime enforcer of authoritarian ideology is economic not military, by the time the state brings in the military to put down any sort of real rebellion it would be far to late, but if you can deprive people of the resources to have a rebellion in the first place your way ahead of the game.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    limbodog (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 7:07am

    Wake up sheeple!

    It's about "Fairness!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    psiuuu, 24 Nov 2015 @ 10:31am

    It's like our TV service, like...

    Regulator: So, tell me again how this streaming internet video service, which an expanding portion of is available via the internet outside of your network, is like your TV service?

    David Cohen: Well, it's like me. I'm an executive vice president you see. (putting hand on regulator's thigh)

    Regulator *alarmed*: HEY! What are you doing?!

    Cohen: Look kitten, we can all agree that I'm just your regular upper management type, right? Definitely not a sleazy lobbyist greasing the skids. (moving around back for some shoulder massage work)

    Regulator *contemplative*: Hmmm...over to the right a little.

    Cohen: Yesssss...any work you need done on your house? Do you have dinner plans tonight? Perhaps we can discuss some plans for the new patio. Pretty sure Stream is like TV - it's on a screen, correct?

    Regulator: ahhhhhhhh...definitely like TV...

    /creepy

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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