The FCC acknowledges that all packets are not equal, and that some can benefit from a little prioritization over other packets that are not time sensitive. OTT providers can take advantage and benefit from this fact to deliver a quality of service equivalent to the incumbent providers.
By Jacob Kastrenakes and Ben Popper
Online television is taking off in a major way, and now some of the biggest providers are looking for assurances that they can keep delivering their content reliably. According toThe Wall Street Journal, HBO, Showtime, and Sony have all been speaking with internet providers, including Comcast, about the possibility of being treated as “specialized services,” separating them out from other internet traffic and essentially giving them a fast lane to consumers. Though fast lanes are explicitly prohibited under the FCC‘s new net neutrality rules, these fast lanes actually fall in a strange gray area that’s yet to be explored.
The FCC carves out an exception for special services that don’t provide wide access to the internet, such as VoIP and heart monitors. Those services are therefore exempt from net neutrality rules and may be provided over a fast lane. If that sounds confusing, it is — and the FCC basically admits it. It notes that these services “could be provided in a manner that undermines the purpose of the Open Internet rules.” If that’s the case, they “will not be permitted.”
Exactly what counts as a specialized service isn’t laid out in the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Rather, the commission gives a very broad definition and says that it has the discretion to stop such services if they become problematic. The question, then, is whether HBO, Showtime, and other web TV providers can create a setup that makes them look like theyhappen to use data but are not actually offering access to the internet. The fact that HBO is specifically trying to offer HBO Now through internet providers — and not on its own — speaks to this. As a service that’s bundled with internet access, an internet provider may be able to treat HBO Now like a specialized service, and therefore send it over a fast lane.