spat opened a rift on the internet last week, cutting off web traffic
between two of the world’s larger bandwidth providers: U.S.-based Cogent
Communications, and Swedish telecommunications giant TeliaSonera.
The two companies participate in a common arrangement on the
internet called peering, which
permits traffic to flow between major bandwidth providers by agreeing to trade
roughly equal amounts of data amongst each other. When that connection is severed, called de-peering, customers from
one network are unable to communicate with the other, unless they can route
around the split via other, third-party networks.
According to Cogent CEO David Schaeffer, TeliaSonera peered
data selectively and refused to upgrade bandwidth at some of the companies’
peering connections, causing traffic to take long, winding routes around the
internet and saturating peered connections’ pipes.
“Some traffic flow was impeded and some traffic was
redirected further than it needed to go,” said Cogent spokesman Jeff Henrikson.
“They weren't responding to requests to comply with our contract, and we
weren't left with much alternative but to terminate the contract.”
Initially, customers wanting to reach the other providers’
network were able to do so, utilizing networks from Verizon, AT&T and
Level 3 Communications – but that only worked for about 12 hours, after which communications
between the two mysteriously stopped.
Earl Zmijewski of internet intelligence
firm Renesys says that the split is the
result of one of three different outcomes:
to the Washington Post, Cogent CEO David Schaeffer denies the
fact that the loss of routes had anything to do with Cogent, instead speculating
TeliaSonera likely refused to pay other providers for traffic.
A representative for TeliaSonera, when contacted by the Washington Post, refused to comment on
Schaeffer’s speculations but said that the two companies were in negotiations
to resume connections – but that it wouldn’t consider re-peering until “TeliaSonera
receives the compensation Cogent owes us.”
Schaeffer says that his company’s expansion into Nordic
territories – TeliaSonera’s home turf – may have something to do with the
ongoing spat and TeliaSonera’s alleged lack of cooperation.
“We've become much more aggressive,” said Schaeffer, “as we
have expanded our network about four months ago in Norway and Finland.”
De-peering disputes often devolve into a game of “chicken,”
where the two companies try to completely cut off each other’s traffic; the
onus of response is left to whichever company has the largest customer uproar
when their networks stop working and websites become inaccessible.
However, authorities on the matter are failing to find
real-world examples of disruptions caused by the Cogent/TeliaSonera dispute: “I
don't have any juicy examples,” wrote Zmijewski, noting that his lack of
examples is both good and bad: bad, because only through big examples would the
two companies be forced to settle their differences; but good, because it seems
that the de-peering dispute is having little impact on the greater internet.
Zmijewski was able to find one example, though: “Martha
Stewart Living is [a single-homed network] behind Cogent … If you go to Telia's looking glass as of the time
of this posting, you cannot get to Martha's network. As far as Telia is
concerned, Martha doesn't exist.”
“Does this mean that the Swedes are deprived of the pleasure
of buying Martha's wares and sending her email?” asked Zmijewski. “Not at all.
Her web site is hosted by Savvis and a customer service email address points to
AOL. But if Martha's parole officer allows her to visit Scandinavia any time
soon, she won't be able to reach her corporate network.”
Given that the majority of Cogent’s clients are large
businesses and ISP’s with tens-to-hundreds of thousands of customers, it’s
likely that Cogent’s clients are simply routing around the rift on their own,
using backup connections from other bandwidth providers.