As the FCC weighs dismantling net neutrality protections, Comcast’s stance on the issue has come under scrutiny from journalists.
For years, the broadband provider– the nation’s largest– has declared that it is fully committed to net neutrality. On the other hand, Comcast has been supportive of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to eliminate net neutrality rules implemented under the Obama administration, applauding it as a positive “milestone” in a corporate blog post.
Pai has proposed no longer classifying broadband as a public utility and eliminating net neutrality regulations meant to preserve an open Internet by prohibiting companies from throttling or blocking internet content. The rules also prohibit providing “fast lanes” to web companies willing to pay more for priority access to customers. The existence of fast lanes could mean that larger companies like Netflix and Facebook will be forced to pay more to internet providers to provide faster streaming to customers, which may in turn result in higher subscription fees for customers.
Pai’s plan only requires internet providers to be transparent about their net neutrality practices. The proposal is due for an FCC vote on December 14, and it is largely expected to pass, which is why the net neutrality stance of companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon are coming under close scrutiny.
Comcast argues that repealing “ill-advised” and “outdated” Obama-era net neutrality regulations will pave the way for increased broadband investment and innovation, and that Pai’s proposal does not necessarily spell the end of net neutrality. Instead, the company has taken the position that the regulations are unnecessary because it is independently committed to providing net neutrality protections for its customers.
Will Comcast Enact Internet Fast Lanes?
On Monday, Ars Technica warned that the broadband provider, despite these avowed commitments, may have plans to offer paid fast lanes to web companies. While Comcast has previously said it has no plans to enact fast lanes, the article noted that Comcast omitted any promise not to institute paid prioritization in its recent company statement on net neutrality.
On Tuesday, Comcast responded in a statement to CNET by reiterating that it has not and will not enact paid fast lanes. “Comcast hasn’t entered into any paid prioritization agreements. Period,” spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in an email. “And we have no plans to do so.”
“No matter what the skeptics say, you can’t accurately convert an unequivocal statement that Comcast has no plans to enter into any paid prioritization arrangement into plans for paid prioritization,” Fitzmaurice added. “As we’ve made clear consistently, regardless of how the FCC rules turn out, we will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content.”
However, Comcast’s Open Internet promise still has no mention of paid prioritization. And regardless, Comcast is only required to adhere to net neutrality rules until September 2018, a condition it agreed to in exchange for federal approval of its merger with NBC/Universal in 2011.
If Pai’s plan becomes federal policy, Comcast may be free to do as it pleases in less than a year.