The company originally launched a streaming TV service in a few select cities in July 2015 under the name Stream that allowed Xfinity customers to pay $15 a month on top of their internet bill to watch shows from a dozen networks on tablets, laptops and smartphones. The relaunched TV streaming service will be called Xfinity Instant TV and will start at the same monthly price for major channels including ABC, NBC, ESPN and others, but could go up to $40 per month based on additional channel packages.
The initial rollout will be somewhat limited to a collection of cities within five states, including Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Hampshire. In addition, Comcast plans to make the rollout only available to households already paying for its own internet service. Some reports have argued that this requirement is grounds for violating basic net neutrality principles, as the service would be getting preferred treatment compared to other internet traffic. Back in 2015 under the Stream name, a Comcast representative commented that the service is delivered over the company’s “managed network,” which essentially means that it will not count towards a Comcast subscriber’s monthly Internet data caps.
Comcast has rebutted this claim by stating that its streaming TV service is not an internet service, but is “functionally equivalent” to a streaming TV service. The requirement of having an existing Xfinity home broadband connection underscores any arguments of a violation of net neutrality, as the service is passed from a broadband modem and is delivered to phones, tablets and PCs. Although the service would not count against a customer’s data caps, it would still favor the company’s own streaming service over anything else.
Recently, the incoming FCC administration has dropped inquiries related to services that allow customers to stream music and video without counting toward a data plan limit, also known as “zero-rating”. Some notable names involved in this scheme include AT&T’s Sponsored Data and Data Perks programs, Verizon’s FreeBee Data 360 program, and Comcast’s Stream TV service. Net neutrality advocates have stated that such programs harm competition by “unfairly marginalizing” other competing services. Though in the case of Comcast, it is only allowing current subscribers access to IPTV streaming service at home and only with service originating from a connected broadband modem.
Comcast’s Xfinity Instant TV service has not yet been announced, though it is likely going to be rolled out into more markets across the US by the end of 2017. Under the company’s zero-rating policy using home broadband modems, it is not difficult to envision a broader internet landscape in the US characterized by a theoretical lack of net neutrality that still bends in favor of one terrestrial ISP option over another.