The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Justice Department is conducting an antitrust investigation into whether cable operators are trying to suppress over-the-top video competition through data caps and other means.
At least one cable data cap critic confirms it asked Justice for such an investigation.
A Justice Department spokesman had no comment -- it does not confirm or deny ongoing investigations. Justice can open an investigation on its own initiative, or in response to complaints from outside parties. In this case it was likely the latter. The Justice spokesman said investigations do not necessarily mean the issue has met a threshhold standard. "Investigations are just that, investigations."
Netflix and some public activist groups have complained, for example, about Comcast's not counting the Xfinity video service it offers through Xbox against its broadband data caps, but doing so for other video services via Xbox.
Public Knowledge has twice asked the FCC to look into the issue. Public Knowledge confirmed it had asked Justice to investigate as well, and expected it was not the only one.
"I can confirm that over the past six months or so we have been in to let Justice know of our concerns and we have heard that they are," said Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky. "The cable industry is doing all it can to try and squash competition. The only people who don't seem to realize it are the FCC."
The Journal reported that Justice had talked to Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Comcast was not commenting at press time and Time Warner Cable had not returned a call for comment at press time.
Free Press, another data cap critic, was pleased to hear Justice was looking into the practice. "This Justice Department investigation is great news for consumers and cable's competitors alike," said Free Press Policy director Matt Wood in a statement. "Cable operators can't justify data caps, no matter what shifting excuses they offer."