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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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RE: McCain
By cmdrdredd on 11/30/2010 10:38:07 PM , Rating: 1
Seeing as I pay ~$9 a month for my phone, plan and usage total, and ~$10 a month for uncapped 100/100 Ethernet right up to the wall socket something is clearly working.

And I bet you pay a Tv tax, a computer tax, a phone tax etc.

Or your service might seem good to you, but you're limited to atrocious speeds and limitations...

I'll gladly pay more to get more which I do.

RE: McCain
By Exodite on 12/1/2010 8:51:47 AM , Rating: 2
Did you even stop to read what I wrote while composing that knee-jerk response?

I have the choice of 10Mbit, full-duplex, Ethernet access for free or choosing between a number of different upgrade packages from various ISPs. I chose the cheapest 100Mbit upgrade option, which ends up costing me ~$10 a month.

In either case there's no traffic cap or artificial limitation imposed upon the service.

The reason I can enjoy this service is because the government, mostly through the universities, have built a strong networking backbone and my city has taken upon itself to extend this to all residents.

This network is then leased to independent operators, ISPs, that get to compete on price and level of service to the end consumer - me.

What I'm trying to point out here is that you're not paying more to get more, you're paying more to get less because there's nothing to keep the corporate greed in check.

RE: McCain
By Reclaimer77 on 12/1/10, Rating: -1
RE: McCain
By Exodite on 12/1/2010 11:06:50 AM , Rating: 2
Don't blame me for taking it off-topic, I cautioned against using the 'taxes' argument once someone saw fit to take an offside remark from my post and decided that disagreeing with it were more important than the subject at hand.

If you had bothered to read my initial post you might have noticed that was about the need for government regulation to keep the Internet as we know it functional and how the irrational fear of such involvement goes contrary to what lies in the public interest.

Personally, though I admit the evidence is purely coincidental, I think you're just having issues with someone of opinions the polar opposite of yours offering something to the discussion that's hard to refute. *shrug*

RE: McCain
By Reclaimer77 on 12/1/10, Rating: -1
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