Comcast’s Cohen seeks ban on paid prioritization with ‘limited exception’

Comcast exec David Cohen
Image: Comcast

Comcast regulatory chief David L. Cohen called on a ban of paid prioritization, save for “limited exception” of services that might benefit consumers. 

"How about if we agree to a prohibition on paid prioritization and we have a limited exception created in some way for this concept of specialized services," Cohen said on a panel at the Free State Foundation's Telecom Policy Conference earlier this week. (C-SPAN has a video of his appearance on its website.)

Cohen wasn’t clear on what kinds of services he was talking about.

"There is a recognition that something might come along that is not anticompetitive, that is pro-consumer, that is a specialized service available not to every user of the internet, [and] that would be in consumers' interests and in the public interest,” he explained.

RELATED: Comcast subtly backs off promise of no paid prioritization

Cohen’s comments are interesting, given the subtle but important language change Comcast made to its position on paid prioritization late last year in the run-up to the FCC’s rollback of 2015 net neutrality policy. 

Ars Technica first noticed the subtle change in rhetoric, comparing company statements made in 2014 to Comcast’s more recently established position. The cable company used to draw a hard line, flatly promising not to establish paid prioritization of internet traffic. But its more recent statements split hairs with pledges that are more vague, declaring that it won’t "discriminate against lawful content" or impose "anticompetitive paid prioritization.”

In 2014, while still in the middle of working out deal conditions for its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal, and with a Democratic-led FCC about to establish Title II regulations that would classify internet service providers like Comcast as more easily regulated “common carriers” instead of “information services," the No. 1 U.S. cable company clearly denied intentions to accept payments for better access to its network.

In a more recent Ars Technica post from yesterday that focused on Cohen’s Free State comments, the tech blog polled other major telecoms on their paid prioritization positioning.

"We will not accept payments from any company to deliver its traffic faster or sooner than other traffic on our consumer broadband service, nor will we deliver our affiliates' Internet traffic faster or sooner than third parties," the Verizon site said.

And as Ars Technica also reported, AT&T recently said it is interested in paid prioritization for "new technologies like autonomous cars, remote surgery, enhanced first responder communications, and virtual reality services."