With net neutrality once again becoming a hot topic in Congress, you may be wondering if your internet provider truly supports a free and open internet. The nation’s most notorious (and most despised) ISP Comcast has told its customers it supports net neutrality, but the reality is nearly all of the company’s actions indicate otherwise.
Here’s a quick timeline highlighting Comcast’s stance on neutrality:
April 2017: Comcast removes key language from net neutrality pledge the same day announces repeal plan
In 2014, Comcast posted a page on its website promising to uphold net neutrality. One of its key pledges at the time was that the company doesn’t “prioritize internet traffic or create paid fast lanes”.
However, three years later when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his finalized plan to repeal net neutrality, Comcast immediately updated its pledge, removing the statements about not charging websites or apps for fast lanes and prioritization. To date, the company still no longer promises to not allow paid prioritization of traffic.
Furthermore, Comcast has changed the language of some of the remaining promises on the site. The pledge used to state that Comcast “won’t” (indicating presently or in the future) block or throttle access to lawful content, but now the promise says “We do not block, slow down, or discriminate against lawful content”, which only indicates what the company does now, not what it may or may not do in the future.
July 2017: Comcast urges FCC to adopt a “flexible” approach to paid fast lanes
In a statement issued to the FCC, Comcast said it was time for the FCC to adopt a “more flexible” approach to paid prioritization (i.e. fast lanes that give preferential treatment to some websites/apps over others). The broadband provider tried to make the argument that paid prioritization can encourage innovation in some cases, attempting to use the example of self-driving cars as one justification for ditching this net neutrality protection.
And while that may sound reasonable enough in passing, as The Verge wisely pointed out, “The only problem is that autonomous and connected cars don’t use wireless broadband to communicate. To be sure, all cars of the future will need to communicate wirelessly, but what Comcast won’t acknowledge is that they won’t need the internet to do it.”
November 2017: Comcast meets with FCC to prevent states from issuing own net neutrality laws
In early November 2017, Comcast met with FCC staff with the goal of preventing states from issuing their own net neutrality laws. At the time, the FCC was preparing to repeal net neutrality, and Comcast and other ISPs were worried that states may try to pass their own laws to prevent broadband companies from throttling, blocking, or otherwise discriminating against online content.
Comcast’s filing read:
We also emphasized that the Commission’s order in this proceeding should include a clear, affirmative ruling that expressly confirms the primacy of federal law with respect to BIAS [Broadband Internet Access Service] as an interstate information service, and that preempts state and local efforts to regulate BIAS either directly or indirectly.
November 2017: Comcast publishes blog post praising Ajit Pai’s work
Later in the month of November while net neutrality supporters were fighting to save an open internet, Comcast issued a post on its blog commending Chairman Pai’s work. The company claimed, “this proposal is not the end of net neutrality rules” and promised to “be transparent with [their] customers.”
October 2018: Comcast supports lawsuit to stop California’s net neutrality laws
Four broadband industry lobby groups sued the state of California to stop its new net neutrality laws. Comcast, a member of the group suing the state, later complained that the laws would cause the company to experience “significant lost revenues”.
2018-2019: After net neutrality repeal, Comcast reduces broadband investment
When working to repeal net neutrality, FCC Chairman Pai argued it would encourage more investment from ISPs in network buildout to provide faster, better internet service to more customers. That’s not what happened.
In the calendar year that followed the repeal of net neutrality, Comcast reduced broadband infrastructure spending by 3%, according to the company’s annual earnings report. Charter and Verizon both also reduced expenditures in 2018.
Comcast is still the only broadband choice for an estimated 30 million Americans, and the company has been quietly securing its monopoly. With their level of influence, it’s important to know where they really stand on net neutrality, and the evidence seems to contradict their previous claims.