Cox launches first gaming-optimized internet service, and it's worrying

When the FCC scrapped net neutrality legislation in 2017, many media outlets and analysts warned that it was only a matter of time until a company took advantage of the situation to create a so-called “fast lane” or an optimized internet connection. 

And today’s the day it finally happened.

First reported by Brian Crecente at Variety, an American ISP called Cox is introducing a new package for subscribers called Cox Elite Gamer that will offer 34% less lag, 55% fewer ping spikes and 45% less jitter for its subscribers who play PC games like Fortnite, Overwatch and Apex Legends

The service, which is only available only for Cox subscribers in the state of Arizona for the next three months for a trial run, works by giving anyone who subscribes to it an “optimized path” to a game’s server using a white-labeled version of wtfast

To join, you’ll have to subscribe to one of Cox’s internet service packages, which range in price from $59.99 to $119.99/month, and then tack on the Elite Gamer package for an extra $14.99/month. 

According to a statement from Cox sent to TechRadar, subscribers to Cox Elite Gamer service then download software and log in to their preferred game through the software. The software routes the player via a more efficient internet path to the gaming servers, resulting in an enhanced experience for gamers. 

According to information on Cox’s website, the service will connect you to “thousands of popular game servers” and includes images of Fortnite, Overwatch and Apex Legends - though the telecom says this lineup of games could change in the future.

 34% better for some or 34% worse for everyone else? 

What Cox wanted to emphasize to TechRadar is that you're not paying for prioritized traffic or increased connection speeds – just a more optimized connection via the Elite Gamer software. According to Cox, that isn't illegal and would be permissible regardless of current regulatory laws.

But that raises the question: If a better connection to a game’s server is possible, why isn’t that the standard network path? 

According to a Cox spokesperson, that's because "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."

That said, we have a lingering concern that packages like Cox Elite Gamer set a dangerous precedent of paying extra for better access that could one day apply to all aspects of the internet, from social media to streaming video, all of which could have their own 'optimized connection.' 

While proponents of fast lanes argue that less government regulation is a good thing and that fast lanes could promote competition among carriers, the general fear among consumers is that cable companies will take advantage of their oligopoly and use fast lanes as a wedge to drive up internet prices. Worse, it could force consumers to choose which parts of the internet they have access to.

While Cox isn't going as far as outright blocking or throttling connections to game servers, it is charging more for a service that could've been - and probably should've been - made available to all.

Nick Pino

Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.