How Comcast is taking advantage of the Schminternet

Molly Wood Mar 29, 2012

How Comcast is taking advantage of the Schminternet

Molly Wood Mar 29, 2012

Look, television is great. Plenty of shows to watch, ranging from the brainless to the brainy. Maybe you hate TV and wish it didn’t exist but plenty of people are nuts for it. The rush in technology right now is all these companies wanting to be the one you rely on to get the TV that you want to watch. To that end, Comcast is now available for users of Xbox Live, the online service for Xbox users.

When you’re a Comcast customer and watch Comcast shows, that won’t count against your Internet usage for the month. Watch all you want, watch TV all day long if that’s what you choose to do, you never have to worry. Which sounds great, unless you want to watch something other than Comcast.

“Imagine if you’re a Netflix subscriber and you’re loving watching your high definition movies over the Internet,” posits Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and Harvard Law School, “and you’ve chosen to do that because you’re sick of paying the high-package bundle prices that Comcast charges. If you’re a Netflix customer watching those high-def movies, you may hit Comcast’s cap. So contrast that to this Xbox service which will feel exactly the same, it’s just streaming video. This service isn’t subject to those caps.”

That’s because the Comcast service isn’t traveling over the internet in the same way Netflix is.  

“This will make online video fell like it should be free to people,” Crawford says. “They’ll feel that it’s unreasonable to have to pay for a Netflix subscription service, much less for pay for overages for exceeding their data caps, and they’ll just say, we’ll, forget that, I’m going over to this Schminternet, this other thing, which feels just like Internet streaming video, but doesn’t have me hit any of these caps or pay any of these extra fees.”

Schminternet! Stuff getting to you through a private network like Comcast is using. Now, there are rules in place for the internet. A provider, like Comcast, has to treat all internet content the same, nothing preferential. That’s the idea of net neutrality. But those rules don’t apply to Comcast using the Schminternet.

“They don’t use the Internet Protocol, they use a different protocol than say if you’re using that same cable to get access to a website or do email or so on and so forth,” says Internet industry analyst Larry Downes. “So, just on this fact, the kind of content that Comcast is doing with its on demand service is not subject to the open internet rules at all.”

So you’ll have your Xbox, you’ll see that you can watch, I don’t know, Cheers through Netflix or Comcast.  Netflix will count against your monthly limit, Comcast won’t.  Columbia law professor Tim Wu, the guy who first coined the term net neutrality, says Comcast is tipping the playing field.

“The whole idea of net neutrality is to try and guarantee that similar content gets treated similarly,” Wu says, “and if you think about it for a second, if something doesn’t count against your cap, obviously it’s getting a preferential treatment. You’re more likely to stream that instead of someone else’s.”

Also on this program, a new feature: Bug or Feature. We look at Twitter randomly unfollowing people from accounts. True, Twitter says it’s a bug and would be awkward if a friend thought you unfollowed them on purpose. On the other hand, it gives you perfect cover to sneak away from following someone you followed just to be nice. 

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