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Level 3 Accuses Six Broadband Providers of Degrading Network Traffic

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Level 3 Accuses Six Broadband Providers of Degrading Network Traffic

May 07, 2014
By Joe Rizzo
TMCnet Contributing Writer

Normally we hear stories of how big business wants less government intervention and wants to be more-or-less left alone. So it may sound a bit confusing to hear that Internet backbone providers are asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) to step in and intervene.

The Internet backbone may be defined by the principal data routes between large, strategically interconnected computer networks and core routers on the Internet. These data routes are hosted by commercial, government, academic and other high-capacity network centers.

These are Internet exchange points and network access points that interchange Internet traffic between countries, continents and across the oceans. Internet service providers, often Tier 1 networks, participate in Internet backbone exchange traffic by privately negotiated interconnection agreements. These are primarily governed by the principle of settlement-free peering.

In computer networking, peering is a voluntary interconnection of administratively separate Internet networks for the purpose of exchanging traffic between the users of each network. The pure definition of peering is settlement-free, "bill-and-keep," or "sender keeps all," meaning that neither party pays the other in association with the exchange of traffic instead each derives and retains revenue from its own customers.

Level 3 Communications (News - Alert), an American multinational telecommunications firm, Internet and backbone service provider, is claiming that for the past year, five U.S. consumer broadband providers are refusing to upgrade their peering connections. The accusation is that by not upgrading, consumers receive sub-par Internet access.

This appears to be an ongoing process. In addition to Level 3, Cogent Communications and Netflix have also made this issue public, arguing that more government oversight is needed. Their reasoning is that the FCC can ensure that big broadband companies are not abusing their power and creating monopolies.

The counter argument from the big broadband companies is that they have been in disputes with Level 3, Cogent and Netflix in the past and that these conflicts are nothing more than business spats. The broadband providers are saying that these disputes are part of an established way of doing business on the Internet.

Mark Taylor, who is vice president of content and media at Level 3, said in the blog that was posted on Monday, "They are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers. They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content. Shouldn't a broadband consumer network with near monopoly control over their customers be expected, if not obligated, to deliver a better experience than this?"

The blog went on to state that most network interconnections operate at around 36 percent capacity. This percentage allows for what is considered to be an easy flow of traffic between the networks. The problem is that on the six networks that Level 3 claims are problematic congestion has been around 90 percent for over a year. At this level of congestion, the connection is saturated and packets are dropped often for several hours a day.

To counter this argument, Comcast (News - Alert) filed a letter with the FCC, back in November 2010, explaining its point of view over a similar disagreement it had with Level 3. The letter described that many services on the Internet pay so-called content delivery providers, or CDNs, for Internet transit. This means that they pay companies like Akamai (News - Alert) Technologies or Limelight, which only provide CDN services, to deliver content and services to broadband customers.

The problem is that since the cost of delivering CDN service has dramatically dropped, Internet backbone providers have also gotten into the business of delivering content. They accomplish this by directly connecting Internet content providers, such as Netflix or Amazon, directly to broadband providers. That means that these companies, which also own large Internet backbones, are cutting out the CDN providers by connecting directly to local broadband networks.

A portion of the letter reads as follows:

Until Level 3 fomented this dispute, Comcast and Level 3 exchanged Internet traffic as part of a commercial interconnection agreement, under which Comcast paid Level 3 for interconnection facilities. Although the parties exchanged traffic at a ratio of about 2:1, with Comcast terminating more of Level 3's traffic, this was well within the industry's established bounds for "roughly balanced" traffic, and they exchanged their on-net traffic on a settlement-free basis.

Now, Level 3 has decided to reinvent itself as a major CDN, in competition with other commercial CDN players, all of whom pay for transmission of their traffic on Comcast's and others' networks. And in so doing, Level 3 would more than double the amount of traffic it sends to Comcast -- which would result in a traffic imbalance that could be in the range of about 5:1. The parties' current interconnection facilities could not begin to support that type of traffic flow.

In Monday’s blog posting, Level 3 mentioned that it has interconnection arrangements with 51 providers throughout the world, but has only seen persistent congestion on 12 of those connections. It is in the process of working with six providers to get enough capacity to alleviate the issue. Level 3 also said that the other six providers, which have near monopolies in their markets, have refused to upgrade their networks. This is what they are claiming is the cause of congestion issues for customers.

It seems this is an argument that will continue for some time to come. You have the Internet backbone providers accusing the Internet Service Providers of purposely not upgrading their networks to alleviate the congestion issue. On the other side, you have the ISPs arguing that the backbone providers are attempting to become CDNs and causing the additional congestion.

It also appears as though several deals have been struck in the past nine or so years, however the result of all of those deals has been listed as “details of the deals have not been made public.” So even if there is a new deal arrived at between these groups, who will know the results?

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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