The net neutrality dispute among US IP carriers has once more exploded onto the front page, following Level 3’s revelation that it is now paying ISP Comcast to deliver traffic.
The issue broke open Monday when Level 3 revealed it had been told by Comcast, the largest US broadband ISP, that it must pay a fee to deliver internet movies to its customers.
By convention, large ISPs and backbone carriers operate peering arrangements in which they send and receive traffic to and from each other without a fee.
But Comcast said that Level 3’s recent agreement with US streaming movie provider Netflix meant that the backbone provider would be sending traffic at a ratio of 5:1.
Level 3 – the world’s largest IP backbone carrier - said it agreed to Comcast’s terms under protest, but accused the company of “putting up a toll booth at the borders” of its broadband access network.
Industry analysts are sharply critical of Comcast, although industry execs were more equivocal.
“Comcast's explanation why they should collect from Level 3 would also apply to every other backbone carrier and hence to essentially every bit carried over the internet,” journalist and industry observer Dave Burstein told Arstechnica.
“Downstream traffic is about four times as high as user upstream, so even a company with a lot of users receiving packets from Comcast users would be asymmetrical.”
Jim Poole, general manager of global networks at data center firm Equinix told the WSJ he expected “this will keep coming up until there is a compromise.”
GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham said the dispute could end up “fundamentally changing how the web works and who pays for it,” adding that the issue underlined “how uncompetitive the nation’s broadband networks really are.”
Law professor Susan Crawford agreed the battle illustrated Comcast's “overwhelming market power,” and called on the FCC to act.
FCC officials have held talks with both companies over the issue, and it is scheduled to announce neutrality rules aimed at preventing carriers from deliberately slowing traffic.
However, its right to regulate broadband is contested, and the issue is likely to end up in federal court.