According to Ars Technica, Comcast will be releasing its XBox Live streaming video application, allowing users to access Comcast’s On Demand videos without counting toward their 250GB monthly data limit. The video is apparently being delivered over a private IP network. This will give the company an advantage over similar services like Netflix and Comcast On Demand content streamed through the company’s web site and mobile apps, which will still count against data limits.
In the FAQ for the service, Comcast states that cable subscribers who use an Internet service provider other than Comcast won’t be able to stream content through their Xbox 360, and an Xbox Live Gold subscription is also required. Users will also need at least one cable box elsewhere in the home. The FAQ notes that Comcast has no plans to follow Verizon’s lead in offering live TV content through the Xbox 360, but they stated that the “service will evolve over time.”
Analysis: This is not good news, in my opinion. Basically, what Comcast has done is provide an Internet service and now its own content, which is “free”/”unregulated” under their contract, while everyone else who provides content—like Hulu Plus or YouTube—will count against your bandwidth caps. My understanding after talking to Chris is that, from a technical standpoint, the fact that it’s on a “private IP” is a red herring. That’s basically a VPN and goes over the same Internet as all other traffic. This also makes net neutrality concerns worse because this kind of activity disadvantages anyone who isn’t in or with Comcast, and that includes smaller businesses.
I have to wonder what the FCC is going to say about this. They have policies against companies discriminating against web sites or applications from other broadband providers, but I haven’t heard anything from them about whether this is acceptable behavior. Comcast, I’m sure, probably thinks that this is all fine and well; and Microsoft likely doesn’t care. To me, it seems anti-competitive: it sure as hell isn’t supportive of innovation and reminds me of all the “fast lane” or “managed services” scenarios that we’ve seen those who support net neutrality paint, where content providers are paying for access above their competitors. And if no one challenges this, others will most definitely follow suit because that’s the profitable thing to do. ISPs want to control what content you’re seeing, especially when the choice is between their content and someone else’s.
So much for net neutrality.