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Comcast: We Must Kill Net Neutrality To Help The Sick And Disabled

For years now, large ISPs like Comcast have tried to have it both ways on net neutrality. They consistently profess to support the concept of net neutrality, but they don't want any meaningful rules actually holding them to their word on the subject. And if there are rules, they want them to be so loophole-filled as to be utterly useless. That's effectively what the FCC's initial 2010 rules did, and that's why companies like Comcast are now pushing to have the tougher 2015 rules killed and replaced with a new net neutrality law they know either won't happen, or will be quite literally written by the industry itself.

This have your cake and eat it too approach continued in this week's Comcast comment on the FCC's proceeding to kill net neutrality. In it, Comcast again pats itself on its back for the company's non-existent dedication to net neutrality, uses industry-paid economists to falsely claim net neutrality rules hurt broadband investment, and trots out all manner of flimsy justifications for the kind of feeble rules that look meaningful to the nation's nitwits, but allow Comcast the leeway to act anti-competitively whenever it likes.

One long-standing ploy used by giant ISPs to scare people into compliance is to argue that net neutrality rules will somehow prevent ISPs from prioritizing medical network traffic. That point was most starkly made when Verizon tried to argue that net neutrality protections would hurt the deaf and disabled by preventing ISPs from being able to prioritize needed communications tools. That's never actually been a problem, and every set of rules we've had so far carves out obvious, glaring exceptions to these services. But that didn't stop Comcast from trotting out this bogeyman once again in its FCC filing (pdf):

"...the Commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public. 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 goal here is to scare policy makers into "more flexible" rules (read: embedding all manner of loopholes into net neutrality protections) or we'll inadvertently hurt the disabled, disadvantage the sick, or kill the smart-driving car industry in the cradle. But again, this has never actually been a problem. The 2010 net neutrality rules had so many exceptions of this type as to make them utterly meaningless, letting ISPs do pretty much whatever they'd like provided they argued it was for the health and security of the network. The 2015 rules also include broad, tractor trailer sized exceptions for this kind of traffic.

What Comcast really wants is rules so "flexible" and broad they don't actually address any of the real hot-button subjects in the net neutrality debate. Like Comcast's decision to abuse the lack of broadband competition to impose arbitrary usage caps and overage fees. Or the way it exempts its own content from these unnecessary limits to put competing streaming providers at a notable disadvantage in this emerging market (aka zero rating).

So it's important to understand that when Comcast pens blog posts insisting it supports net neutrality, what it's really saying is it supports an absurdly-broad definition of net neutrality, which includes so many caveats and loopholes as to make said support utterly meaningless. That's again why you're currently seeing large ISPs argue that they want to do away with the strong 2015 rules (which more clearly differentiate anti-competitive behavior from justifiable paid prioritization), and replace it with a new, industry-written law that takes us back to the murky definitions seen in the FCC's since-discarded 2010 rules.

So once again with feeling: anybody that actually cares about net neutrality should support the simplest and easiest way to protect consumers, startups and small businesses moving forward: keep the existing rules intact.

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