With the Net Neutrality Repeal Vote Looming, Comcast Hints as Paid Fast Lanes

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Comcast had previously vowed not to violate the tenants behind net neutrality, asserting it wouldn’t prioritize specific content, or block or throttle lawful internet traffic. But, now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to repeal many of the rules, Comcast is singing a slightly different tune, hinting that fast lanes may be part of the company’s future.

The change in Comcast’s stance could be called subtle, as the internet service provider now states it won’t “discriminate against lawful content” or enact “anti-competitive paid prioritization.” Adjustments to the verbiage insinuate Comcast may provide paid fast lane options to websites or other internet-based services, like video streaming companies.

In a July 2017 filing with the FCC, Comcast provided some insight into how the ISP may implement such changes should net neutrality be repealed.

“[T]he Commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public,” said Comcast in the filing.

“For example, a telepresence service tailored for the hearing impaired requires high-definition video that is of sufficiently reliable quality to permit users ‘to perceive subtle hand and finger motions’ in real time. And paid prioritization may have other compelling applications in telemedicine.”

“Likewise, for autonomous vehicles that may require instantaneous data transmission, black letter prohibitions on paid prioritization may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it,” the statement continued. “Commercial arrangements that entail prioritizing such traffic could ensure the low latency levels needed to achieve the high level of data quality necessary for such services to thrive.”

According to Arstechnica, it is important to note that the current net neutrality rules do allow ISPs to support telemedicine through isolated network capacity, along with services like VoIP, energy consumption sensors, and heart monitors.

Net neutrality also allows ISPs to use content delivery networks (CDNs) to optimize internet content to the edge of the network.

The proposed net neutrality changes, as submitted by Ajit Pai or the FCC, would allow for the creation of fast lanes associated with any online business, regardless of the nature of the services involved. Additionally, Pai’s plan would give ISPs the ability to block or throttle internet traffic, even if it is lawful.

Net neutrality advocates fear the presence of pay tolls will harm or disadvantage businesses who can’t afford to pay Comcast or other providers as it could make it more challenging to reach customers.