For years, Comcast has been promising that it won’t violate the principles of net neutrality, regardless of whether the government imposes any net neutrality rules. That meant that Comcast wouldn’t block or throttle lawful Internet traffic and that it wouldn’t create fast lanes in order to collect tolls from Web companies that want priority access over the Comcast network.
This was one of the ways in which Comcast argued that the Federal Communications Commission should not reclassify broadband providers as common carriers, a designation that forces ISPs to treat customers fairly in other ways. The Title II common carrier classification that makes net neutrality rules enforceable isn’t necessary because ISPs won’t violate net neutrality principles anyway, Comcast and other ISPs have claimed.
But with Republican Ajit Pai now in charge at the Federal Communications Commission, Comcast’s stance has changed. While the company still says it won’t block or throttle Internet content, it has dropped its promise about not instituting paid prioritization.
Instead, Comcast now vaguely says that it won’t “discriminate against lawful content” or impose “anti-competitive paid prioritization.” The change in wording suggests that Comcast may offer paid fast lanes to websites or other online services, such as video streaming providers, after Pai’s FCC eliminates the net neutrality rules next month.
Comcast is the largest home Internet provider in the US, with more than 23.5 million residential Internet subscribers. In May 2014, Comcast Senior Executive VP David Cohen wrote the following:
To be clear, Comcast has never offered paid prioritization, we are not offering it today, and we’re not considering entering into any paid prioritization creating fast lane deals with content owners.
Six months later, Comcast made the promise again, saying, “We don’t prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes, and have no plans to do so.”
The circumstances in 2014 were different than they are today. Back then, the FCC clearly intended to impose at least some restrictions on paid prioritization, and ISPs were trying to avoid the Title II classification. Comcast had also agreed to some limitations on paid prioritization as a condition on its 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal.