Comcast may be crossing FCC rules with Xbox offering

Comcast’s long-awaited rollout of Video On Demand via Xbox could potentially violate the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet rules, according to allegations made by consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.

The product, which Comcast announced would soon be available to subscribers, uses an Xbox application to stream video over the device’s connection to the owner's cable modem. Comcast has assured customers that use of the product wouldn’t count against the 250GB monthly limit that the company attaches to consumer data plans.



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But Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said Comcast’s plan to give Xbox users a break raises questions about the company’s justification for imposing the cap in the first place.



"This type of arrangement is exactly the type of situation the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) rules on the Open Internet were designed to prevent,” Sohn said Monday in a statement.



Sohn said the arrangement is an example of an Internet provider giving itself preferential treatment to gain a competitive advantage. The FCC’s Open Internet rules were enacted after Comcast was found to have surreptitiously blocked peer-to-peer traffic. The incident raised concerns that Internet providers would manipulate their networks to increase profits, and was the spark that ignited the entire debate over "network neutrality"

PK's allegations against Comcast should be a “wake-up call to the Commission to show it is serious about protecting the Open Internet,” Sohn said. 

She noted that the situation at hand is exactly what Open Internet advocates have warned about for years: "The Xbox 360 provides a number of video services to compete for customer dollars, yet only one service is not counted against the data cap -- the one provided by Comcast.”

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice told The Hill that Comcast's policies in this case "fully comply" with the FCC's rules. Fitzmaurice said that content delivered via the XBox isn't transmitted over "the public Internet." Ordering content via the XBox in this case is akin to watching an on-demand video using a regular set top box, she said. Data caps don't apply because the XBox functions as an additional set top box rather than as an Internet appliance, she said.

By contrast, Fitzmaurice said that content that is transmitted over "the public Internet" does count against the 250GB usage cap. "Comcast is committed to an open Internet, and has pledged to abide by the FCC's Open Internet rules," she said. 

Updated at 5:09 p.m.

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