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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Update: Comcast’s usage meter net neutrality power trip.

Updates here? Few and far between, having done *maybe* 10 in the five years writing MTLB. After I ran the post on Comcast’s Usage Meter, I received two comments where I thought an update was warranted.

The first was from someone apparently working for Comcast, who questioned why specifically this wasn’t neutral. I always love when someone misses the larger implications and hones in on one point taken out of context. To answer the question though, net neutrality encompasses a lot of things related to user experience online, not just issues of bandwidth and types of content carried, but access to that bandwidth.

If the connection I pay for is lousy while someone else’s isn’t? How can that imbalance be considered acceptable by anyone?

But it glosses over the creepier implication of privacy and control as viewed by corporations and brands. Those types of policies don’t all of a sudden happen, rather, they occur incrementally over time, and from the brand’s point of view, hopefully under the radar of most people. Which leads to the second response I got from the friend who sent the original piece in.

He’d called Comcast for further details, and their response (along with his take on things), are worth considering given the context above.

[Emphasis mine on one of those incremental Big Brother *steps*]


I spoke to COMCAST about this yesterday. They say that if any user exceeds their alloted 250GB of download volume in a given month, their service would be suspended for the rest of the month. They could not tell me if all internet service would stop (though they thought not) or just downloads. Sounds fair at first blush, but then I got to thinking, “hey, that means that they can tell the difference between normal internet packets, and downloads.” Really?!? The big brother factor just jumped up by an order of magnitude.

Next will they figure out how to detect telltale signs of packets containing porn, or libel or anti-COMCAST content?

I get that this is probably aimed at illegal file sharing, but it occurred to me that Comcast is faced with a real challenge to their cable business model: High quality streaming video content. Hulu and Netflix instant Queue both deliver content that, in terms of convenience, is better than Comcast’s On-Demand, because it is easier to find (read as better GUI in the single database) and in Netflix’s case, delivers HD to my TV via Xbox 360 Live. I don’t know whether Comcast can differentiate between large and continuous amounts of data used in streaming and downloading, but I would bet that it is not in their interest to do so, even if they can.

Am I just being paranoid?


I agree that illegal filesharing hurts businesses and the respective copyright owners; an issue which is one of the provisions covered in the neutrality debate. But, people are blocked or dropped from social networks like Flickr or YouTube now over material they already own due to misinterpretations by a Borg mindset that runs those communities.

It’s not impossible to posit then that an arbitrary judging panel in some cable company somewhere is holed up in a room all day saying what is and isn’t legal. As for whether they can eventually control access based on what they determine is appropriate being paranoid?

I’m not sure I wouldn’t be either.

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