Comcast swears it won’t give preferential treatment to its favorite internet content, but they want to legalize doing it, anyway.
Last Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission unveiled plans to repeal net neutrality protections, which prevent internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain online content, or creating prioritized “fast lanes” for the websites that providers prefer. Hours after the FCC’s announcement, Comcast took to Twitter to assure customers that it wouldn’t abuse the new powers.
“We do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content,” Comcast tweeted.
But in a July filing with the FCC, Comcast left its options open. While Comcast said it opposed paid prioritization that “could harm competition and undermine Internet openness,” the company went on to argue in favor of fast lanes’ underlying technology.
“The Commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public,” Comcast wrote.
Fast lanes could be used to protect internet speeds for medical devices and autonomous vehicles, Comcast argued in its filing. (Comcast’s reference to medical equipment is a moot point: current net neutrality protections already allow special fast lanes for the telemedicine devices.)
Comcast said not to read too far into its defense of fast lanes for specific devices.
“We tried to take a balanced approach and suggest in our policy filings that there could be some applications or services that would make sense,” Comcast told The Daily Beast of its July filing. “We didn’t say that we were going to do them.”
Even on Twitter, Comcast appeared to dodge when users pressed it on its policies. The company presented the net neutrality rollback as an opportunity to block “anticompetitive paid prioritization.”
“Paid prioritization” is tech-speak for internet fast lanes, which would allow websites like Netflix to pay internet providers like Comcast for faster access. But the reference to “no anticompetitive paid prioritization,” as first noted by Ars Technica, is an impressive qualifier. The wording suggested that Comcast might support fast lanes, as long as they were “competitive”.
“Comcast hasn’t entered into any paid prioritization agreements,” a company spokesperson told The Daily Beast in a statement. “Period. 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.”
Other internet service providers have also come under scrutiny for feel-good statements public statements that do little to actually protect net neutrality.
Since July, AT&T has encouraged pro-net neutrality customers to fill out a form that actually asks the FCC to repeal existing protections.
“Since this debate began over a decade ago, we have always supported an internet that is transparent and free from blocking, censorship and discriminatory throttling,” AT&T’s website reads. “But relying on 80-year old regulations to ensure these fundamental open internet principles does not make sense.”
Those “80-year old regulations” are the laws that allow the FCC to regulate internet providers.
The form then auto-generates letters to the FCC with virtually meaningless messages like “I am writing in regard to the Commission’s work on preserving an open internet. There is no doubt that the internet has become a crucial part of our economy and way of life. That’s why it’s very important to regulate it in a responsible way.”