By Martin Bosworth
The Save The Internet coalition alerted me to Comcast’s quietly rolling out new terms of service that codify what has been common knowledge for some time–that the company does, indeed, interfere with traffic on its network, and reserves the right to do so, any time it wishes.
Of course, the company hasn’t actually come out and said it so plainly, any more than they’ll admit they cancel customer accounts for hitting undisclosed bandwith caps. Instead, as Mike Masnick notes, they’re using “weasel language” that implies their intent without being so precise as to be caught.
Let’s compare and contrast. From Comcast’s terms of service, Section III, “Network Management And Consumption:”
How does Comcast manage its network?
Comcast uses various tools and techniques to manage its network, deliver the Service, and ensure compliance with this Policy and the Subscriber Agreement. These tools and techniques are dynamic, like the network and its usage, and can and do change frequently. For example, these network management activities may include (i) identifying spam and preventing its delivery to customer e-mail accounts, (ii) detecting malicious Internet traffic and preventing the distribution of viruses or other harmful code or content, (iii) temporarily delaying peer-to-peer sessions (or sessions using other applications or protocols) during periods of high network congestion, (iv) limiting the number of peer-to-peer sessions during periods of high network congestion, and (v) using other tools and techniques that Comcast may be required to implement in order to meet its goal of delivering the best possible broadband Internet experience to all of its customers.
From Comcast’s selection of high-speed Internet packages:
Get on the fast track…fast! With Comcast High-Speed Internet, you’ll enjoy the most amazing online experience. Powered by Comcast’s advanced fiber-optic network, you’ll love the thrill of blazing-fast speeds. Speeds way faster than DSL from the phone company! * And with Comcast’s innovative PowerBoostÂ® technology, activities like downloading videos, movies, music and games or uploading photos go even faster.
One of these things is not like the others.
For Comcast to come out and say that their network may be something less than “blazing fast” is the kiss of marketing death, but at the same time, in the wake of their impending FCC investigation, they have to give themselves at least some legalistic CYA to ensure they can’t be held accountable by angry customers, consumer activists, or Capitol Hill. Thus this song-and-dance. As Andy Patrizio and Masnick have noted, the “reasonable network management” phrase is the same language used by the FCC itself, a clear signal that the company is trying to appease Kevin Martin in his never-ending war on cable.
I recommend reading Free Press’ Marvin Ammori’s awesome analysis of this seemingly innocuous change, in which he deconstructs their legalese down to the essence–that they are too cheap to build out a more advanced network to handle the demands their customer base is placing on it (which happens when you’re an essential monopoly in many regions), so they’re instead throttling their customers’ Internet access and calling that “reasonable network management.”
Enjoy that blazing-fast 3mbps speed!