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Hey, Keep Your Hands Off Your Network!

3/27/2012 9:59 AM

Cable operators, which have spent billions to build their high-speed DOCSIS broadband networks, find themselves being lectured at every turn by self-appointed consumer activists about what they may — and may not — do with that asset.

In the latest quasi-controversy, Comcast is being blasted for informing subscribers that video-on-demand content accessed through Xbox 360 consoles won’t count toward their 250-Gigabyte monthly usage limit (see PK Slams Comcast In Push For Data Cap Inquiry).

That’s even though the VOD is being delivered over (gasp!) Internet Protocol networks.

The VOD-over-IP-to-Xbox service “raises questions not only of the justification for the [Comcast] caps but, more importantly, of the survival of an Open Internet,” Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said.

Well — no, it doesn’t. Comcast is delivering VOD to Xboxes over its own network (not the Internet), and it’s using IP instead of QAM as the transport mechanism.

If we put this (non)issue in historical context, it clearly does not rise to a mad-as-hell moment.

Consider AT&T: The nation’s biggest telco uses IP to deliver its entire TV lineup, including VOD, to set-tops in the home — and, since October 2010, to Microsoft Xbox 360 game consoles. Last summer, AT&T imposed usage caps on all broadband customers, but U-verse TV viewing does not count toward those limits.

Where is the outrage, I ask you?!

The technical means used by AT&T or Comcast — or Verizon FiOS or Time Warner Cable’s iPad app — to deliver TV content to their own subscribers over their own private networks really has no place in the so-called network neutrality debate. The FCC specifically exempted managed IP services, such as AT&T U-verse TV and facilities-based voice-over-IP, from the “Open Internet” rules (see the “specialized services” section on page 61).

Still, Comcast and other broadband providers should tread very carefully to avoid even the perception that they are somehow giving themselves an advantage over Internet-based competitors.

The Comcast/Xbox/IP VOD issue, from a public-policy perspective, may be bogus. But if squeaky wheels squeak loudly enough — even if their arguments are groundless — broadband providers could find themselves in D.C.’s crosshairs again, with the Internet potentially subject to old-fashioned common-carrier regulations (see Genachowski Tells Congress He Will Consider Closing Title II Docket).

Because while they may be the ISPs’ networks, to the general public (and consumer advocates) it is “our” Internet.

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