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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
is America's largest cable internet provider, so if Level 3's claims
are indeed legitimate, net neutrality advocates --
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.).
quote: 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
quote: 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.
quote: Why oh why didn't they tell Comcast to pound sand?