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Comcast allegedly demanded more money from a high internet video provider, or threatened to disconnect its customers. The move marks a bold assault on net neutrality.  (Source: CFC Oklahoma)
Legislation may stop the "toll booth" practice, though

Comcast is no stranger to controversy, with a penchant for aggressive cost saving measures.  It ran afoul of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission when it began throttling users' traffic, such as torrents or peer-to-peer connections (with regard for their legality).

Now Comcast appears to have landed itself in another mess with Level 3 Communications' Chief Legal Officer, Thomas Stortz, accusing it of demanding money in order to continue to allow Comcast customers to access Level 3's high speed video.  In essence, if true, that would represent Comcast spitting in the face of the net neutrality movement, and making a bold move towards a "toll booth" web as Level 3 puts it.

Mr. Stortz writes:

On November 19, 2010, Comcast informed Level 3 that, for the first time, it will demand a recurring fee from Level 3 to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content. By taking this action, Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content which competes with its own cable TV and Xfinity delivered content. This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access markets as the nation’s largest cable provider.
On November 22, after being informed by Comcast that its demand for payment was ‘take it or leave it,’ Level 3 agreed to the terms, under protest, in order to ensure customers did not experience any disruptions.
Level 3 operates one of several broadband backbone networks, which are part of the Internet and which independent providers of online content use to transmit movies, sports, games and other entertainment to consumers. When a Comcast customer requests such content, for example an online movie or game, Level 3 transmits the content to Comcast for delivery to consumers.
Level 3 believes Comcast’s current position violates the spirit and letter of the FCC’s proposed Internet Policy principles and other regulations and statutes, as well as Comcast’s previous public statements about favoring an open Internet.
While the network neutrality debate in Washington has focused on what actions a broadband access provider might take to filter, prioritize or manage content requested by its subscribers, Comcast’s decision goes well beyond this. With this action, Comcast is preventing competing content from ever being delivered to Comcast’s subscribers at all, unless Comcast’s unilaterally-determined toll is paid – even though Comcast’s subscribers requested the content. With this action, Comcast demonstrates the risk of a ‘closed’ Internet, where a retail broadband Internet access provider decides whether and how their subscribers interact with content.
It is our hope that Comcast’s senior management, for whom we have great respect, will closely consider their position on this issue and adopt an approach that will better serve Comcast and Comcast’s customers.
While Comcast’s position is regrettable, Level 3 remains open and willing to work through these issues with Comcast. However, Level 3 does not seek any ‘special deals’ or arrangements not generally available to other Internet backbone companies.
Given Comcast’s currently stated position, we are approaching regulators and policy makers and asking them to take quick action to ensure that a fair, open and innovative Internet does not become a closed network controlled by a few institutions with dominant market power that have the means, motive and opportunity to economically discriminate between favored and disfavored content.

Comcast is America's largest cable internet provider, so if Level 3's claims are indeed legitimate, net neutrality advocates -- including corporations like Google -- should be very concerned.  After all, other cable providers will likely follow in Comcast's lead.

If Comcast indeed succeeds in this bid, it would likely mean that the cost of internet services for users would greatly increase.  Advertising would no longer be enough to sustain sites like YouTube or Facebook, and they would have to switch to subscription fees.

The U.S. Congress and the FCC are working on legislation to prevent this kind of "pay to play" practice.  The pending legislation has generally enjoyed bipartisan support, though it has a few vocal critics, including Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).

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Level 3, You Bastards!
By NaughtyGeek on 11/30/2010 11:26:18 AM , Rating: 2
Am I the only one who thinks Level3 is putting on a show? Why oh why didn't they tell Comcast to pound sand? Sure, customers wouldn't get what they were trying to on the net, but guess who would take the heat, Comcast. By refusing to pay the fee that Comcast was demanding they would have created a huge backlash from Comcast subscribers being denied content by their provider. Level3 would not look like a bad guy to consumers, Comcast would. This looks like nothing more than a clever PR campaign designed by Level3 and Comcast to satisfy the plebes.

RE: Level 3, You Bastards!
By kattanna on 11/30/2010 11:47:21 AM , Rating: 2

Comcast on Monday rebuffed the notion that the new fees were related to Netflix by saying that the type of traffic distributed by Level 3 was irrelevant. Joe Waz, a senior vice president at Comcast, says it has had a peering agreement with Level 3 to swap traffic fairly evenly. Now Level 3 is sharply increasing its traffic, he said, while resisting a commercial agreement to pay for that

now while i can completely believe comcast could be at fault for simple greed, this time they might be in the right, if the above info is correct.

if level 3 is truly exceeding its peering agreement, then comcast is in its rights to be compensated.

RE: Level 3, You Bastards!
By hotel77 on 11/30/2010 1:46:03 PM , Rating: 2
agreed, here's another article.

It sounds like level 3 even asked the same of other companies when level 3 was in Comcast's position....

RE: Level 3, You Bastards!
By rett448 on 11/30/2010 11:41:14 PM , Rating: 2


Several Ars staffers have experience in maintaining peering and transit connections both in the US and Europe, and each agreed that the situation here is unusual. That's because most "transit" deals, the ones where money was exchanged, historically focused on data that was simply traversing one network on its way someplace else. Why should one network operator bear the costs of building and maintaining a network just so that some other network operator could route all of his traffic over it for free? Peering, or direct network interconnection, generally took place when each network sent similar amounts of traffic to the other and it wasn't worth the expense or hassle of trying to account for every bit.

But the CDN traffic from Level 3 isn't in "transit" anywhere; it's going to the Comcast customers who want to watch Netflix movies. Level 3 is, in one sense, doing Comcast a favor by making a key Internet service better; it's not simply taking advantage of Comcast's network to get its own traffic somewhere else. That's what Werbach means when he talks about a "terminating access monopoly"; Comcast has a lock on its customers and can try to extract rents from anyone trying to send them data, even if it's data they requested.

RE: Level 3, You Bastards!
By Kary on 11/30/2010 1:53:33 PM , Rating: 2
I'm still confused, if Comcast customers are asking for more bandwidth from Level3's network, why isn't Comcast paying more?

RE: Level 3, You Bastards!
By hotel77 on 11/30/2010 3:04:31 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not well versed in this at all...but the concept to me is comcast is to level 3, as you/me are to netflix.

Comcast is providing service to you/me, level 3 is providing service to netflix. Thus, the "peering" concept between comcast/level 3.

Level 3 wants to send X amount of data over the comcast network, while allowing Y amount of comcast's data to flow through level 3's network.

Comcast is saying the discrepancy between X and Y is large enough, where they feel they should receive compensation.

Comcast is also saying, that level 3 did the same thing to other peers they have worked with, when the tables were turned and level 3 was in the situation comcast is in now.

Whether that's true or not, I don't know. It's just what they're saying.

Also, my understanding could be completely wrong.

RE: Level 3, You Bastards!
By lolmuly on 11/30/2010 7:58:42 PM , Rating: 2
Why oh why didn't they tell Comcast to pound sand?

umm... because that would ruin their business??

no mo customers = no mo money?

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