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)…