For the past six months – ever since the new Trump administration came into office in January 2017 – the debate over net neutrality has been getting louder in intensity. The new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, has suggested that the law guaranteeing net neutrality should be changed to free up competition and innovation. And, at the same time, the Republican Congress has let it be known that it would not be opposed to such a move. So where does Comcast stand in this net neutrality debate?
Without a doubt, Comcast has allied with the champions of net neutrality and an open internet. The latest evidence comes from the July 12 Internet “Day of Action” protests, when Comcast reaffirmed its role as a very important voice in the debate. In an official corporate blog post, Comcast said that it supports net neutrality. And the company has listed all the reasons why net neutrality is important to the vitality of the Internet.
And, furthermore, Comcast let it be known that it supports “permanent, strong, legally enforceable net neutrality rules.” This goes one step further than just expressing support for an abstract idea or concept – it suggests that Comcast is willing to fight in Congress for the right of all Americans to benefit from an open, free internet.
For Comcast, net neutrality is a very important concept that expresses at least three key ideas:
At a glance, you can see why all three of these are so important. The first one means that Comcast can’t decide to deny access to its internet network to some companies. The second one means that Comcast Internet can’t deliberately slow down content that it does not agree with. And the third one means that Comcast can’t decide to make some Internet content harder to access than other Internet content.
All three of these – not just one or two – are necessary for a free and open Internet. These three principles help to guarantee that the Internet functions much like the rest of America – as a place where ideas are freely exchanged and debated, and where all are created equal. And Comcast is also united behind the concept of full transparency about its policies. All of that should be very positive for consumers, letting them realize that Comcast is on their side in this debate.
If there’s one lesson that Comcast has learned from its efforts to acquire other telecom companies, it’s the importance of net neutrality. At one time, Comcast had deals blocked simply because some companies thought that it was looking for ways to circumvent net neutrality by getting bigger and bigger.
One of those companies that raised questions, of course, was Netflix. At one time, it looked like Netflix and Comcast were on opposite sides of the net neutrality debate. Netflix argued at the time that Comcast could be seeking to slow down Netflix traffic to customers, and even that Comcast was looking for ways to block Netflix entirely, due to the excessive bandwidth Netflix was taking up with all of its streaming movies.
You can immediately see the problem here, right? If we go back to the three key principles of an open internet, the idea that Comcast might “throttle” Netflix content or “block” streaming movies is very much against the spirit of the open internet.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that Comcast has looked for ways to work in partnership with Netflix and ensure that these principles aren’t violated. And Comcast has been very clear and forceful in the net neutrality debate that it is doing everything possible to support Netflix (and companies like Netflix that are dependent on Comcast).
Here’s why: Netflix accounts for a significant percentage of all Internet traffic today, as measured by bandwidth consumed. Millions of Americans streaming Netflix movies over the Internet use up a lot more bandwidth than tens of millions of Americans checking email or surfing the web.
We’ve reached a point where what’s good for Netflix is good for Comcast. In the jargon of business, the two companies are “in alignment” about their strategy. They appreciate the “win-win” nature of today’s internet. Comcast couldn’t possibly block, throttle or slow down Netflix traffic without causing a lot of problems for a huge number of Internet users across America.
One very common misconception is that any change to the burdensome regulations that govern Comcast is somehow a blow against net neutrality. When Comcast suggests that it is against Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, it does not mean that it is against net neutrality. What’s at stake here is not the concept of net neutrality – which Comcast willingly and forcefully supports – it’s how best to regulate Internet Service Providers.
Under current FCC guidelines, Comcast is regulated just like a typical phone company. According to Title II, Comcast is just a “common carrier,” nothing more. As a result, there are very strict guidelines about what it can – and cannot do.
And all that is bad for competition and innovation. Regulators are currently using an 80-year-old rule – Title II – to determine what Comcast can and cannot do. That’s just bad for business. And, as a result, it’s bad for consumers. And, moreover, it’s bad for economic growth.
Think about it – in today’s digital world, the Internet is the key to so many things. And, most importantly, it is the key to commerce, business and productivity. If you’re a consumer, you want the fastest possible service, right? Well, the same thing is true for business. They also want the fastest service, the best infrastructure, and the most innovative services. It’s the key to their business success.
But if Comcast can’t deploy the latest 5G network, everyone suffers. Consumers are stuck with the “old” technology (4G) and businesses can’t grow or expand as fast. As Comcast has pointed out again and again, there is a very clear link between a faster Internet and the following:
The problem is that Title II throttles Comcast and other Internet Service Providers, severely limiting their business expansion activities. That’s why Comcast has been so active about overturning Title II. From Comcast’s perspective, replacing Title II with more relevant legislation would be very helpful.
It’s expected that Comcast will continue to support any initiative that protects net neutrality. At the same time, Comcast will support any effort by the FCC to modernize the nation’s laws. Is it really possible that we’re living in the year 2017 and we’re using a law from the year 1934 to regulate the internet?
For American rivals abroad, that must seem very absurd. In nations like South Korea, everyone is onboard with the idea of ultra-fast broadband. The same is true in just about every innovation hub around the world, like Scandinavia. So why isn’t it the case in America, the home of the world’s biggest and most vibrant economy?
In many ways, the FCC now faces a very important moment – will it act to modernize America for the digital, globalized world, or will it continue to view Comcast the same way it views legacy telephone companies?
For consumers, there’s one good reason to get behind Comcast and its efforts to protect net neutrality and that’s the need to get rid of data caps. Right now, companies like Comcast are struggling with all the Internet traffic that’s being created. All those Netflix streams really add up! And so some ISPs are imposing “data caps” on customers who use too much bandwidth. That’s a reflection of the fact that companies like Comcast are sometimes using old, outdated infrastructure and struggling to keep up with all the bandwidth needs of consumers.
If, on the other hand, Comcast were enabled to build new, modernized infrastructure, that would really make things easier. Comcast might not even have to charge fees any more for going over a certain data limit. The reason is simple: bandwidth would no longer suffer from scarcity, so there wouldn’t be a need to charge an extra fee.
For now, all eyes are on the FCC and its outspoken chairman, Ajit Pai. The new Trump administration has let it be known that it’s for competition and the end of regulatory burdens on companies, and it looks like the FCC is moving forward with plans to reclassify Internet Service Providers (ISPs) under less stringent rules.
That makes Comcast’s next move easy to predict – the company must let customers know that any changes to the FCC regulatory regime will not impact net neutrality. The company’s commitment to a free, fair and open internet is just too important, and Comcast realizes that the voice of the consumer is one that is very relevant in today’s digital world.