Public Knowledge has come out against Comcast’s decision to exempt its new IP-delivered Stream TV offering from usage-based data policies it’s testing for high-speed Internet service in several markets, claiming that it “threatens video choice.”
“Comcast's exemption of Stream TV from data caps presents a straightforward example of the anticompetitive problems zero-rating can raise, and provides little consumer benefit,” John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge, wrote in thisblog item posted Friday (November 20). “Comcast is attempting to frame its self-serving, discriminatory actions in a way designed to slip through real or imagined loopholes or exceptions to both the Open Internet rules or its merger commitments, but none of these attempts work.”
Comcast defended its data policy for the service last week, noting that Stream TV, a skinny TV bundle being offered on mobile devices initially in Boston and Chicago, “is an in-home IP-cable service delivered over Comcast’s cable network, not over the public Internet.”
Bergmayer countered that, from a user’s perspective, Stream TV is “identical to any other Internet service,” and that the data policy for it “would permit Comcast to discriminate in favor of any of its own services, and flies in the face of the Open Internet rules.”
Bergmayer also points out that Public Knowledge has had a complaint pending at the FCC since 2012 regarding Comcast's data policy for a VOD app for the Xbox 360 that did not count against data usage-policies. Comcast pulled the plug on that app for the Microsoft gaming console earlier this year.
Bergmayer acknowledged that the 2010 FCC Open Internet rules include an exemption for “specialized services” such as facilities-based VoIP services and heart monitors, but argues that Stream TV appears to be a different animal. “It is not available standalone; you need a broadband Internet access connection to access it. It is thus readily distinguishable from services like facilities-based VoIP,” he wrote.
The FCC has yet to weigh in on Stream TV, but “[t]he Commission staff is working working to make sure it understands the new offering,” the FCC said in a statement to Wired.