The net neutrality red herring: Anti net neutrality, Comcast and Level 3

Vern Burke, SwiftWater Telecom
Biddeford, Maine

I’ve been watching the debate over the Comcast vs Level 3 peering dispute. I’m not a big fan of Comcast by any means, but any attempt to paint this as a net neutrality fight is ridiculous.

The net neutrality issue is really very simple. Large ISPs thought it was a good idea to charge content providers for priority paths through their network to reach their subscribers. Pay the “toll” and your traffic speeds right along smoothly and your users love you. Don’t pay the “toll” and you take your chances with a cow path instead of a nice smooth 10 lane superhighway. This kind of extortion is bad in so many ways that I can’t begin to count them.

Peering, on the other hand, is simply an agreement between two providers that they will exchange traffic between them directly, rather than going through the public Internet backbone. This can save both providers by removing traffic from their expensive Internet backbone links and it speeds up the traffic flow between both providers dramatically. No charge peering works only if the peering arrangement is of equal benefit to both sides. This means that the traffic flows roughly evenly in both directions.

My understanding of this issue is that Comcast and Level 3 have had a mutual peering arrangement for some time now. Now Level 3 is demanding special peering access deep into Comcast’s network for the sole purpose of speeding their traffic to the end user. This is an arrangement that solely benefits Level 3 but they insist on Comcast paying the entire cost.

It’s quite clear that this is, in no way, a net neutrality issue. If anything, this is an ANTI net neutrality issue. Instead of the ISP wanting the provider to pay for premium access through the ISP’s network, the provider is demanding the the ISP give them free premium access deep into the ISP’s network and attempting to claim that they are somehow entitled to it.

Level 3 needs to man up and come up with an arrangement that mutually benefits everyone involved or pay the fair cost of the special access they want that benefits nobody but them. Level 3 can throw this at the net neutrality wall all they like, but it doesn’t stick.


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