The CEO of Netflix has accused Comcast of violating net neutrality principles over the way it handles internet video streaming. The Federal Communications Commission says it is taking the issue seriously, but it doesn’t appear Comcast has broken any binding regulations as they currently stand.
Netflix boss Reed Hastings made the comments in a Facebook post. He noted that he was able to access four video applications through his Xbox , namely HBO GO, Hulu, Netflix and Comcast’s own Xfinity. He complained that watching any of the first three services ate up his monthly data allowance, but watching on Xfinity did not:
“The same device, the same IP address, the same wifi, the same internet connection, but totally different cap treatment. In what way is this neutral?”
Questioned about the complaint, the FCC said it “takes seriously any allegations of violations of our open Internet rules.”
However, Comcast’s policy may not be breaching the existing rules. If you use Xfinity on a computer or iPad, it comes over the Internet and (as best I can tell) will count towards download caps. However, Xfinity videos on the Xbox are sent via Comcast’s own private network and don’t use up “Internet bandwidth.” It’s treated in the same way as video-on-demand services on a cable box — though of course, cable boxes usually don’t offer direct competition between video providers in the way the range of Xbox apps do.
Although this is currently perfectly legal, the FCC has previously said it is concerned about the lines being blurred. A situation such as this, where Comcast is following the letter of the law but arguably not the spirit, may influence the way the FCC seeks to revise and update Internet rules in future.
It is also fair to note that Hastings may be looking to pick a fight over an issue of principle rather than practicalities as the monthly data cap in question can be as high as 250GB and it appears rare that customers exceed it and rarer even that they suffer consequences.