Everyone knows what it means to whitewash unpleasant facts, and in recent years we've become accustomed to the term “greenwashing” to describe companies claiming to be environmentally friendly when they’re really not.
Well, Comcast seems intent on creating the need for a new term—“netwashing,” perhaps—to account for its totally disingenuous commitment to "a free and open Internet."
I happened across a television commercial last weekend and literally could not believe what I was seeing and hearing. Comcast, the biggest of the ISP boogiemen, repeatedly voted the worst company in America, is actually claiming to support net neutrality? Really?
Well, that depends on how you define “net neutrality,” not to mention “support,” doesn’t it? The company says “We're for an Open Internet for all to create more innovation and competition.” And it notes that it’s “the only company in America legally bound by the 2010 FCC’s Open Internet rules.”
Comcast is actually bragging about being such a threat to net neutrality via its 2010 takeover of NBC/Universal that regulators had to single it out for special rules. When those rules expire in 2018, however, Comcast has been clear that it won’t commit to continuing to follow them, only that it will comply with the relevant rules at the time. Sorry, but you don’t get a medal just for promising not to break the law.
And is Comcast really treating all data “fairly and equally,” as it claims in its hideously patronizing video?
After all, this is the company that sparked the latest rounds of the net neutrality debate by charging Netflix extra to deliver streaming content to Comcast subscribers. As the Washington Post put it:
“Officially, Comcast's deal with Netflix is about interconnection, not traffic discrimination. But it's hard to see a practical difference between this deal and the kind of tiered access that network neutrality advocates have long feared.”
And Netflix certainly thought Comcast was slowing its traffic, to the point that the company ponied up big money to make it stop.
Sure, Comcast crows that “we agree with the President’s principles on net neutrality,” but there’s a huge catch hidden in the fine print.
Once you click through to the actual page behind that link, you find that while Comcast is happily on board with all the empty verbiage about a “free and open Internet, no blocking, no throttling, increased transparency, and no paid prioritization,” it has a little problem with the meat of the President’s proposal, which Comcast laughably dismisses as a “technical legal difference of opinion.” The company ultimately acknowledges that “we do not support reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II.”
That, my friends, tells the story. Comcast has the lawyers and lobbyists to define net neutrality any way it likes. It has myriad options to slow down or speed up internet traffic in ways that it can claim don’t run afoul of the rules. And, in fact, many observers believe it’s already doing just that in many instances, even while claiming to support the rules. Only making broadband a Title II telecom service would provide the teeth to make net neutrality a reality.
Comcast says it supports the “principles” of net neutrality, but it wants nothing to do with being compelled to follow them. It’s like saying you’re against pollution, as long as there aren’t any laws that would actually stop you from polluting.
So, what’s really going on here? It’s all about money and mergers.
Now that it has mostly digested NBC/Universal, Comcast is trying to buy Time Warner Cable for more than $45 billion, and it is conducting a full-scale FUD campaign to try to get FCC approval. That’s why it’s paying lip service to net neutrality now, but it seems clear that’s all it is. Lip service.