Comcast CTO: VOD To Xbox Goes Over A Dedicated IP Path

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Rebutting accusations that Comcast is violating the FCC's network neutrality rules, chief technology officer Tony Werner said the MSO is sending VOD to Xbox 360 consoles over a separate, additional segment of IP bandwidth but isn't "prioritizing" that over Internet traffic.

Comcast debuted the VOD-on-Xbox feature in late March. That has drawn fire from competitors and public-interest groups, because the operator exempts its own IP video service on the Xbox 360 from the 250-Gigabyte monthly usage cap on broadband users.

Last week, Netflix complained to the Federal Communications Commission that Comcast's Xfinity TV app for Xbox, Time Warner Cable's TWC TV iPad app and AT&T's U-verse on Xbox violate the commission's network neutrality regulations. The video-rental company told the FCC that the operators' policy of exempting their own video services from usage caps -- while metering Internet-delivered video services such as Netflix's -- is "economically irrational or anticompetitive," and contrary to the FCC's Open Internet order.

Comcast Xfinity on Xbox

But Werner, in a post Tuesday on Comcast's official blog, said the Xfinity TV On Demand on Xbox 360 "essentially acts as an additional cable box for your existing cable service," and is therefore governed under Title VI of the Communications Act.

Instead of using traditional QAM or the public Internet, Comcast delivers its VOD to Xbox consoles over a separately provisioned, additional IP bandwidth flow into the home "above and beyond, and distinct from, the bandwidth a customer has for his or her regular Internet access service," Werner said. "Our Xfinity TV content is provided through the Xbox over that separate service flow, and therefore does not use a customer's provisioned Internet service capacity."

Meanwhile, the MSO appears to be prioritizing IP-based video delivered to customers' Xboxes over other Internet video traffic, according to a Bryan Berg, founder and CTO of development firm Mixed Media Labs. He said an analysis of network traffic indicated Comcast is setting a higher Differentiated Services Code Point (DSCP) value for VOD destined for the Xbox than other IP-based traffic.

"[B]y selectively remarking traffic destined to my broadband service, it is implicitly being treated differently," Berg wrote in a May 5 blog post.

But Werner disputed that Comcast is "prioritizing" VOD to Xbox. He acknowledged that the MSO is using DSCP markings, but he said that's only to "mark the Xfinity TV packets to identify these packets so our network knows that these packets must be transmitted over the separate service flow from the CMTS to the customer's cable modem."

"It's really important to us that we make crystal clear that, in contrast to some other providers, we are not prioritizing our transmission of Xfinity TV content to the Xbox (as some have speculated)," Werner wrote. "While DSCP markings can be used to assign traffic different priority levels, that is not their only application -- and that is not what they are being used for here."

In its Open Internet order issued last November, the FCC excluded "specialized services" such as voice-over-IP and managed IP-video services from having to comply with nondiscrimination and transparency provisions. But the commission also said it expects broadband providers "to disclose information about specialized services' impact, if any, on last-mile capacity available for, and the performance of, broadband Internet access service."

Netflix, in its May 8 presentation to FCC staff, argued that with respect to the Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T services it questioned, "differential treatment of affiliated services [is] opaque to consumers."

Comcast's Werner was hoping to clear the air by spelling out how the VOD-to-Xbox feature works. "[O]ur Xfinity TV content being delivered to the Xbox is the same video subscription that you've already paid for, to your home over our traditional cable network -- the difference is that we are now delivering it using IP technology to the Xbox 360, in a similar manner as other IP-based cable service providers," he wrote.

All content delivered over the Internet, including from XfinityTV.com, the Xfinity TV iPad app, and NBC's digital properties like NBC.com, is subject to Comcast's 250-GB usage threshold.

"We treat all of this traffic the same, as required by the FCC's Open Internet rules and the FCC Order and DOJ Consent Decree entered into in connection with the NBCUniversal transaction," Werner wrote.

Werner added that the Xbox 360 app "is the first of many consumer-friendly changes we'll be announcing in the months ahead as we respond to consumers who want to watch their favorite content when they want to watch it, where they want to watch it, on multiple devices."

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