Comcast investigated over net neutrality, denies Xfinity favoritism

By on May 16, 2012, 6:30 PM

Comcast network and operations VP, Tony Werner, has responded to Minnesota senator Al Franken's request to investigate the company for questionable net neutrality practices. According to Werner, Comcast is not prioritizing Xfinity traffic -- the company's IP television service -- which is the heart of the debate.

In April, critics slammed Comcast for allowing its Xfinity app for the Xbox 360 to bypass the 250GB data cap imposed upon its subscribers. While Comcast customers can enjoy an all-you-can-eat Xfinity buffet, other Internet-based video services such as Netflix and Hulu remain subject to the 250GB limit. Critics argue that the combination of its artificial data cap and preferential Xfinity treatment gives the service an unfair advantage over third-party television and movie streaming services. In effect, this makes Xfinity an obvious choice for any Comcast subscriber.
Notwithstanding his other arguments, Werner's focus on prioritization does appear to be a bit of a red herring. The real debate is the preferential treatment of Xfinity rather than the literal meaning of packet prioritization; special treatment could be every bit as detrimental to an "open Internet" as prioritization. In the case of networks, "neutral" may apply to many different aspects so there are many opinions on the matter; however, the FCC does provide a set of guidelines. Ultimately, it will be up to the DOJ and FCC to figure out if Comcast is violating those rules.
While it is clear that Xfinity traffic is being treated differently than other Internet traffic, Comcast argues that Xfinity simply isn't Internet traffic to begin with. The cable company contends that, by virtue of Xfinity being exclusively available only to Comcast television subscribers, Xfinity is an extension of its cable television service. Mr. Werner also makes the argument that Xfinity is served over a separate network. He draws a distinction between QAM (the delivery system for cable television) and Internet traffic versus the special "IP network" used for the delivery of on-demand and Xfinity video. 
Werner's thinking is further cemented by the fact that Comcast treats devices like the Xbox as set-top boxes -- a fact that is spelled out in its terms of service agreement. What are your thoughts regarding Xfinity?

User Comments: 9

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mevans336 mevans336 said:

They have a point, it's not the same as Internet traffic. If they were selling this service to anyone over the Internet, ala Netflix, then there might be something to the net neutrality argument, but as it stands now, there is not.

1 person liked this | Tygerstrike said:

It seems like the gentlemans argument is sound. Since this is only offered to Comcast subscribers, and no one else, it is legal. The only difference is the fact that sites like HULU and Netflixs arent service providers. It mat seem shady at first glance but its a solid argument and we will see one of our representatives eating a ton of crow after the investigation is over with. Im afraid another senator is trying to jump on a media bandwagon. Unfortunatly hes going to crash and burn on this one lol.

lawfer, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I concur with the above comments.

Raswan Raswan said:

Technically, comcast may have covered their collective ass in terms of the language they use to identify xfinity and the xbox. But we all know what happens when service providers become content providers (e.g. see how pissed publishers were/are at valve), and whatever Werner says, we all know the intent behind everything here. Isn't comcast about the largest provider in the country, or close? So what happens, mevans, Tygerstrike, and lawfer, when they do start selling to everyone? Alternatively, if they cover 35% of the market, or 60 million Americans or whatever that translates to, what practical difference is there if they limit the service to their customers only? They get a judge now to rule that as long as they couch it like so, they can do whatever they want, and before you know it suddenlink and timewarner have a rear naked choke on our internet before we can realize what they did. I don't think it would ever come to that, but come on, he clearly knows that they are doing is shady.

cmbjive said:

My thoughts on Xfinity? I can't even use the service, considering I live in Arizona.

In other words, whatever Comcast is doing doesn't even bother me. Still, if Xfinity were available to me in Arizona I still wouldn't care about it.

tonylukac said:

He's lying. Internet traffic is not cable tv (QAM) and the xbox 360's app goes over the internet, not QAM.

taea00 said:

To me the real question is where does the internet begin and end? As far as I'm concerned as soon as my home network hits that cable modem that's where the internet starts. So this is against Net Neutrality in my opinion. It just amazes me though how even regular cable isn't included in the data cap. All cable tv is sent digitally now. So it is data. The set top box you have to use to watch tv? That's a computer that is required to descramble the data sent from the cable company.

I am a Comcast subscriber, but only for the internet and not their cable service. They're essentially punishing me for watching other sources of video than XFinity. If I had a choice I would leave Comcast in a second, but since they're the only company in my area that offers anywhere near a decent speed (there's DSL but it's 1.5 mbps down at $80 a month) I'm forced to stay with them. Fios is 2 years away so let's hope they can pick up the pace and I can get away from Comcast and their anti-competitive ways.

Guest said:

Xfinity isn't streaming this over the internet. Arguing they are being "unfair" isn't a fact.

Plus, you have to have Xfinity video, not just high speed internet to get this service.

Let's turn this around, and say why doesn't Netflix sell Netflix with the requirement to sign up to a Netflix high speed internet?

Netflix is hardly an "internet service" in the first place. If this where to go to court, net neautrality would go nowhere anyway.

Cable companies have already won "publisher" rights in courts multiple times already. The High Speed Internet Comcast sells in no different then selling a newspaper, yet you don't see congress forcing newspapers to "give away" pages to anyone that wants space do you?

Guest said:

I don't agree with his arguments. It's the same type of service as Hulu and Netflixs and and by it being delivered to the Xbox and not to Comcast own cable box it IS the same type of traffic no matter what why he sugarcoats it. OPEN INTERNET FOR ALL!!! I say get RID of these caps and we won't have a problem!

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