Comcast could be readying paid priority lanes should net neutrality laws be eliminated

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Date: Friday, December 1st, 2017, 03:03
Category: Legal, News

After years of promising that it won’t violate the principles of net neutrality, Comcast appears to be gearing up for an instance in which net neutrality laws could be revoked. The company’s stance has changed and while Comcast has stated that it has dropped its promise about not instituting paid prioritization.

The new policy now states that Comcast won’t “discriminate against lawful content” or impose “anti-competitive paid prioritization.” The change in wording suggests that Comcast may offer paid fast lanes to websites or other online services, such as video streaming providers, after the Federal Communications Commission eliminates the net neutrality rules next month.

Should net neutrality rules be eliminated, Comcast would have to decide whether any prioritization deal is anti-competitive before implementing it. FCC chairman Ajit Pac has argued that the Federal Trade Commission and other antitrust bodies would handle regulation in this area. Still, as such, the FTC’s enforcement powers are limited in the Internet Service Provider sphere.

Comcast is presently the largest home Internet provider in the United States, boasting 23.5 million residential Internet subscribers.

As of May 2014, Comcast Senior Executive VP David Cohen wrote the following:

To be clear, Comcast has never offered paid prioritization, we are not offering it today, and we’re not considering entering into any paid prioritization creating fast lane deals with content owners.

Six months later, Comcast offered the following statement:

“We don’t prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes, and have no plans to do so.”

Back in 2014, ISPs such as Comcast were trying to avoid classification as a Title II entity, which would provide the same regulations as a utility. Comcast had also agreed to some limitations on paid prioritization as a condition on its 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal.

The conditions of the NBCUniversal purchase themselves expire in September 2018 and Pai’s proposal would both undo Comcast’s Title II classification as well as completely eliminate the rules of net neutrality.

The final net neutrality legislation will be voted on December 14 and doesn’t ban blocking or data speed throttling.

Comcast, in turn, may have plans for how it could handle paid prioritization via a July 2017 filing with the FCC:

[T]he Commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public. For example, a telepresence service tailored for the hearing impaired requires high-definition video that is of sufficiently reliable quality to permit users “to perceive subtle hand and finger motions” in real time. And paid prioritization may have other compelling applications in telemedicine. Likewise, for autonomous vehicles that may require instantaneous data transmission, black letter prohibitions on paid prioritization may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it. Commercial arrangements that entail prioritizing such traffic could ensure the low latency levels needed to achieve the high level of data quality necessary for such services to thrive.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Via Ars Technica

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