Earlier this week Comcast came under fire for possible net neutrality violations after it was revealed that streams of on-demand video that it delivers to subscribers via Xbox Live won’t count toward its monthly 250 GB bandwidth cap. Well, the way Comcast delivers that content hasn’t changed, but the language it uses to describe the delivery method has been updated, perhaps in an effort to draw less attention to the issue.
For those who forgot, the pertinent part of the FAQ previously tried to distinguish its VOD streams from those of competing video services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, saying that its content on Xbox was “being delivered over our private IP network and not the public Internet.” As a result, since Comcast’s Xbox Live streams are essentially a managed service being delivered and cached throughout its own in-network CDN, the cable company argued that those bits wouldn’t count towards the cap.
That was seen as anticompetitive by many, especially since Netflix streams — and even those from TV Everywhere partners like HBO and others — do count against the cap. And it reeked of possible net neutrality violations, for providing favored access to its own content but not others. But the reality of the situation is a lot more nuanced, as Stacey Higginbotham wrote earlier this week.
Now it looks like Comcast is changing its tune and doing away with the whole public/private network argument altogether. The FAQ now reads:
Q: Will watching XFINITY TV directly on my Xbox 360 use data from my XFINITY Internet monthly data usage allowance?
A: No; similar to traditional cable television service that is delivered to the set-top box, this content doesn’t count toward our data usage threshold. The Xbox 360 running our XFINITY TV app essentially acts as an additional cable box for your existing cable service, and our data usage threshold does not apply.
Frankly, the new language doesn’t change much, especially considering those Xbox streams are delivered over IP, and aren’t that different from the streams that go to its iPad app or those that are viewed through its XfinityTV.com website. The slippery slope here is that down the line, Comcast could argue that those screens aren’t any different than what you watch on your TV, either through the Xbox or a Comcast set-top box.
It’s worth noting that the content available for Comcast’s VOD offering is different from what’s on the iPad app and website — they’re different services and Comcast has negotiated different rights for each. And they aren’t delivered in the same way: VOD runs over the internally built Comcast CDN, while iPad and web streams go over the Internet through third-party CDNs.
It’s also worth noting that what Comcast is doing isn’t that different from IP delivery of video via Verizon FiOS or AT&T’s U-Verse. And that we’ll likely see more of these types of services, especially with the introduction of new multimedia gateways that will soon route IP-based TV streams wirelessly throughout the home and onto whatever devices users want to watch them on.
For now, though, Comcast is hoping to soften the rhetoric by telling us that the Xbox isn’t any different than another set-top box. That’s cool, dudes. Just as long as you’re not saying your video is running over a private network.
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