Apple has apparently turned on its new content-delivery network, and is reportedly paying Comcast and other big ISPs to move hardware into their data center and build direct interconnects to their networks. This is the exact same evolution that Netflix has been going through, building out its own CDN and agreeing to pay ISPs for interconnection. The major difference is that Netflix has loudly opposed the fact that ISPs can charge a fee for this arrangement, while Apple has stayed mum on the issue.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) are intended to speed up the delivery of data to customers by placing servers in locations around the country. That way when I request data in New York, it can ping a nearby Apple server. Apple has traditionally relied on third-party CDNs like Akami and Limelight, but has decided it can do much of that work for less money by working directly with ISPs.
According to Dan Rayburn, the analyst who broke the news: "With Apple planning to release the beta version of their next desktop OS today, Yosemite (10.10), and with iOS 8 expected to come out this fall, Apple’s putting in place a lot of capacity to support upcoming software releases. Apple is still using Akamai and Level 3′s CDN services for iTunes (Akamai), Radio (Level 3) and app downloads, but over time, much of that traffic will be brought over to Apple’s CDN."
The FCC has said it is looking into the business deals that govern paid interconnections, but so far has not classified this issue as part of net neutrality, as Netflix would like. A paid interconnection is not the same thing as an "internet fast lane", which privileges certain bits over others on the ISPs network. If paid interconnects becomes the norm, however, they could begin to have the same effect, with companies who can afford them delivering their data to consumers faster and more reliably than those who don't.
Big companies like Facebook and Google joined Netflix in criticizing ISPs ability to charge for interconnection, but they did so through a trade organization, and have not publicly attacked the practice the way Netflix has. A big tech giant like Apple agreeing to pay ISPs, and not complaining about it, is probably a bad sign for Netflix's push to reform the way this market operates.
The Verge reached out to Apple and will update with any comment.