Comcast this week rolled out a new free service allowing customers who subscribe to both Xfinity Internet and Xfinity Digital Video to watch TV on demand on their Xbox 360 consoles.
While that sounds like a nice feature for subscribers, Comcast's move potentially hurts Netflix, Hulu Plus and other companies that offer video to Xbox users. That's because programs viewed through the Xbox 360 won't count against Comcast subscribers' broadband data caps, currently set at 250GB per month. "Since the content is being delivered over our private IP network and not the public Internet, it does not count against a customer’s bandwidth cap," the company says in an FAQ about the offering.
Advocacy groups Public Knowledge and Free Press both pointed out that such a structure gives Xbox 360 users an incentive to favor Comcast's video service over that of competitors. "The Xbox 360 provides a number of video services to compete for customer dollars, yet only one service is not counted against the data cap -- the one provided by Comcast," Public Knowledge said in a statement.
The group renewed calls for the Federal Communications Commission to examine data caps more broadly.
Free Press likewise criticized Comcast, arguing that the company was violating the spirit, if not the letter, of neutrality rules. The FCC's neutrality order prohibits Internet service providers from discriminating against content providers.
"Comcast tries to justify preferred treatment for its own video on the Xbox 360 by claiming that the content is delivered over a private IP network rather than the public Internet," Free Press policy director Matt Wood said in a statement. But not counting this video against a Comcast customer's monthly data limit gives the Comcast product an unfair advantage against other Internet video services."