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What does Cox’s ‘Elite Gamer’ internet service really do?

Ceci n’est pas une ‘fast lane’

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D.Va looks focused as she clutches the control stick inside her mech in Overwatch Blizzard Entertainment

Internet provider Cox Communications is running a limited trial of a new gaming service. Called Cox Elite Gamer, the $14.99-per-month subscription promises to “automatically find a faster path for your PC game data.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently did away with regulations that prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against certain kinds of internet traffic. Many believe that the repeal of so-called “internet neutrality” will eventually open the door to tiered bandwidth plans, where customers will be required to pay a premium for “fast lane” access to certain websites.

Cox maintains that Elite Gamer isn’t creating a fast lane for gaming, at least not on its network. A representative for the company characterized the offering as having more in common with a virtual private network, but those differences may be largely semantic.

The test of Elite Gamer is currently available only in Arizona, and only for Cox customers already paying $59.99 per month for a 100 Mbps internet plan. Marketing materials promise 34 percent less lag, 55 percent fewer ping spikes, and 45 percent less jitter (also referred to as packet loss). Users can install software on their gaming PC, and Cox takes care of the rest.

According to Todd C. Smith, executive director of media relations for Cox, Elite Gamer isn’t actually Cox’s own product. It’s a rebranded version of another company’s existing technology. Founded in 2009, WTFast offers the exact same service for the exact same price to everyone, regardless of who their ISP is or how much bandwidth they’re paying for.

Smith says that even though customers are required to sign up for a 24-month plan, Cox is only selling Elite Gamer for the next three months. It’s a test, and will only be continued based on customer feedback.

Most important of all, Smith said, this isn’t the creation of a fast lane for gaming.

“This offering would be permissible regardless of regulatory environment,” Smith told Polygon via email, “as it does not alter speed in any way nor does it prioritize any traffic over others on our network.”

The phrasing here — “on our network” — is important. WTFast’s technology prioritizes certain internet traffic over other traffic, but it does it outside of Cox’s own infrastructure. The act of creating a more concise pathway for consumers to reach game servers is, by its very definition, the creation of a fast lane. What’s important for Cox, however, is to be able to say that it is not the one creating that fast lane. It’s merely charging for access to a fast lane, one that someone else has already built.

Cox Communications marketing for Cox Elite Gamer highlighting Fortnite, Overwatch, and Apex Legends
Cox Cable’s marketing for Elite Gamer specifically mentions that PC players of Fortnite, Overwatch, and Apex Legends will see a difference in the quality of their connections.
Cox Communications

“This service does not increase the speed of any traffic, nor prioritize gaming traffic ahead of other traffic on our network,” Smith clarified for Polygon. “Cox Elite Gamer solves a problem with deficiencies in the public Internet, NOT our network. No customer’s experience is degraded as a result of any customers purchasing Cox Elite Gamer service as an add-on to their Internet service.”

If you end up signing up for Cox Elite Gamer, drop Polygon an email to let us know how it goes.

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