Kenneth Li and Sonam Rai, Reuters:
Comcast’s NBCUniversal will launch a streaming media service in early 2020 under a pricing model that seeks to mollify traditional pay TV providers while going after a market dominated by Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.
The advertising-supported service, announced on Monday, will be available at no cost to NBCUniversal’s pay TV subscribers in the United States and eventually across the globe.
Who could have seen that, without net neutrality laws, Comcast would seek to use its dominant position in the low-competition internet service provider market to unfairly prioritize media assets it acquired in a way that other streaming services cannot because they are not owned by a major broadband provider?
Consider that Comcast is working on a Netflix competitor, and that they also own NBCUniversal. It’s not hard to imagine an environment in which Comcast charges Netflix an extremely high rate to carry NBCUniversal TV shows and movies while also requiring Netflix to pay to be in their “fast lane” of internet service.
Comcast could also conceivably offer their streaming service at a reduced rate, or not count it against monthly bandwidth caps. In 2014, Kate Cox of the Consumerist reported that there were plenty of well-populated regions in the United States where Comcast had no broadband competition. As of last year, around 78% of Americans had a choice of zero or one provider for broadband of 25 Mbps or higher. In regions where Comcast is the only option, they could choose to offer NBC and MSNBC at a reduced rate on the web, but charge higher prices to view CNN or Fox News. If you didn’t like this, you could lodge an FTC complaint; but, as long as your ISP were being transparent about these practices, it wouldn’t be deceptive and may not even necessarily be predatory.
I’m not so deluded to think that I was the only one to foresee this, of course; a move like this one was clear to anyone who watched Comcast’s takeover of NBC Universal. The FCC required Comcast to abide by dozens of unique rules as a condition of their acquisition of NBC Universal, but those rules expired last year. To be clear: there is no evidence that Comcast is charging Netflix a newly-increased rate to carry its service at the same speed as, say, Hulu, but they will implicitly charge subscribers more to use Netflix than their own service.