February 28, 2011, 1:04 PM — The U.S. Department of Justice has accomplished through its power to disapprove mergers a level of protection for Internet-services customers what the agencies responsible for protecting those customers declined to provide: a tiny concession from a major ISP that it would do something to protect for business and consumer Internet-service customers.
As part of the agreement required to win approval of its acquisition of NBC Universal, Comcast had to agree to license NBC content to potential competitors and – much more significantly for those concerned more about Internet equality than on what device to watch "30 Rock," – it agreed not to keep its 17 million Internet subscribers from getting video from Netflix or other competitors.
The DoJ did not require and Comcast did not promise to not throttle or slow traffic from Netflix -- or a business customer's videoconferencing provider -- if Comcast thought it needed to do so to keep its network running to its satisfaction. It only promised to not block that traffic entirely, which the FCC's net neutrality rules also required. Those rules are being challenged in federal court and in Congress, however.
If either or both effort succeeds, the DoJ's stipulation will be the most concrete federal rule keeping ISPs from tuning their networks so their own services run well and those of their competitors are slow and jittery.
The news is great for Comcast, and sounds good for most of its cable Internet subscribers, it actually hurts not only them but the millions of businesses that rely on cable for broadband Internet as well.
A third of small and medium-sized businesses get their Internet connections through cable modems at monthly costs that range between $86 and $124 per month – a total annual cost of $10.6 billion in 2008, according to a November, 2010 report on the impact of broadband on small businesses from the federal Small Business Administration.