Add Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to the growing list of people questioning Comcast.
The senator sent a letter today to the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice calling for an investigation of the cable giant. The move was sparked by Comcast's recent announcement that it will allow Xfinity subscribers to stream shows to an Xbox without counting that data toward home broadband users' 250 GB-a-month limit. The company says this arrangement doesn't violate the FCC's neutrality principles (which prohibit discrimination) because the data is traveling on Comcast's private IP network, as opposed to the public Web.
But Franken argues that Comcast's plans nonetheless cry out for investigation. "Even if this does not amount to a technical violation, it certainly raises serious questions about how Comcast will favor its own content and services to the detriment of its competitors," Franken writes in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Acting Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Sharis Pozen. "Comcast's actions will almost certainly drive consumers to Comcast's Xfinity Streampix, rather other Internet video streaming services, which I fear will thwart your agencies' efforts to create an open and level playing field for current and future competitors of Comcast."
Reports that Sony is delaying its own streaming video offering, and that Hulu might soon require users to subscribe to cable, give regulators even more reason "to carefully review how Comcast is advantaging or prioritizing its own content to the detriment of online video competitors," Franken says.
The senator goes on to question whether Comcast's controversial spectrum deal with Verizon should go forward. Last December, Verizon said it had agreed to pay $3.6 billion to license spectrum from Comcast, Time Warner and BrightHouse Networks. The agreement, currently awaiting regulatory approval, also provides for Verizon and the cable companies to market each other's services; Verizon and Comcast have already started co-marketing services in Seattle, Portland and the San Francisco area.
Consumer advocates oppose the deal, arguing that it will undermine competition -- especially because Verizon is no longer expanding its high-speed FiOS network. For his part, Franken expresses a concern "that this type of coordination and collaboration will only further harm consumers and will throttle competition in the online video space."