Net neutrality protections have not yet been repealed, but it seems that ISPs are already taking their sheep costumes off to reveal the wolves beneath. In a move that will make everyone say, “of course they did,” it seems that Comcast deleted its pledge to protect the open internet the day after the FCC announced its plan to kill the open internet this spring.
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You might recall the embarrassing and altogether strange PR campaigns that Comcast and Verizon started running a week after FCC Chair Ajit Pai announced his plan to end net neutrality protections in April. “Likeable” and “normal” people like “Jeremy” helped explain to the public that big telecoms love treating all traffic on the web with the same priority, they just don’t want that to be the law. Why not? Did we mention that Jeremy has glasses and a nice checkered shirt, and that he seems nice? Stop asking questions.
But thanks to a sharp find from Ars Technica, we know that Comcast was already changing its promises at that time. The telecom has had a page on its corporate website since at least August of 2014 that explained its position on net neutrality. Up until April 26th of this year, the statement said things like “Comcast won’t block access to lawful content,” and “Comcast won’t throttle back the speed at which content comes to you” (emphasis ours). Beginning on April 27th, the pledge effectively ceased being a pledge, and is more of a statement on the way things are at the moment.
The previous lines asserting that Comcast “won’t” do the bad things have now been changed to: “We do not block, slow down or discriminate against lawful content.” It’s probably just a coincidence that April 26th was the same day Pai kicked off the process of dismantling the open internet. By the way, a line from the statement that previously read “An Open Internet with access for all. That’s what we’re for,” has also been deleted.
Another troubling change is the removal of the line “Comcast doesn’t prioritize Internet traffic or create paid fast lanes” from the statement. Now, the company no longer discusses paid fast lanes on the page at all. But in a recent comment on Twitter, the company did write that it won’t engage in “anticompetitive paid prioritization.” On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Comcast told CNET that it “hasn’t entered into any paid prioritization agreements,” and “we have no plans to do so.” But saying that you have no plans to do something and saying that you won’t do something are quite different.
Last, but not least, the company’s current position is that its “for sustainable and legally enforceable net neutrality protections for our customers.” So, if the FCC follows through with repealing net neutrality on December 14th, that phrase will be meaningless.
And Comcast isn’t stopping with its efforts to convince the public that it supports net neutrality. In the name of disclosure, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow recently read this statement when reporting on the upcoming FCC changes: “Now is the part where I should tell you that MSNBC is owned by Comcast which has an interest in this fight. They say they support net neutrality but they’d like to get rid of the regulations that currently guarantee it.” So, yeah, if you’re a Comcast customer, you might want to prepare yourself for the up-charge if you want to visit Fox News.
We’ve sent multiple requests to Comcast to ask about the strange timing of the change to its net neutrality pledge, as well as to ask if it will commit to all of the assurances that it had previously given to customers. So far, we haven’t received a reply. Will anything they tell us ultimately matter in the slightest fucking bit? Nope. In the end, Comcast will wring every last dime out of you that it’s legally allowed to and whatever makes that possible is what they’ll “support.”
Update 11/30/17: A Comcast spokesperson sent us the following statement:
“Our commitments have stayed that same as they’ve been since the FCC first adopted the Open Internet rules we supported in 2010, that we won’t block, that we won’t throttle, that we won’t discriminate against lawful content. We’ve said consistently we’ve not entered into paid prioritization agreements and have no plans to do so. No matter what the skeptics say, you can’t accurately convert an unequivocal statement that Comcast has no plans to enter into any paid prioritization arrangement into plans for paid prioritization.”