More on Level 3 and Comcast

I saw in @radar‘s Twitter stream a re-tweet from @acroll that linked to a piece at GigaOM. Stacey Higginbotham gives Comcast much more the benefit of the doubt.

So what’s the issue? Level 3 told the world that Comcast had hit it up for more money in order to deliver traffic from Level 3′s customers (such as Netflix) to Comcast’s 17 million broadband subscribers. Level 3 said Comcast’s demand for more dough violated the principles of the Open Internet, which is shorthand for net neutrality. On the other side, Comcast, said Level 3 was trying to sell itself as a CDN while not having to pay fees to Comcast as other CDNs do. In short Level 3, was calling itself a CDN to its customers and a backbone provider to Comcast. This (plus the fact that Level 3 owns one of the largest Internet backbone networks) enabled it to undercut its competitors in the CDN business because it didn’t have to pay the fees that Akamai or Limelight did to get content onto Comcast’s network.

Maybe she is unusually sympathetic to Comcast, taking their side of the story at face value. One of my readers, who admitted to doing some consulting for the cableco, offer a few links to consider: Comcast’s letter to the FCC which includes an explanation Level 3 engaging in the same practice years prior, ten myths about Comcast’s possible reaction to Level 3’s current complaint and some more information from them on peering. Superficially these bolster the first point Stacey makes except that what little is mentioned of prior history reads like back biting and the other two blog posts are very heavy on the spin.

I think Stacey’s read on this is correct, that a staid industry is under increasing pressure to change based on consumer demand. As unfair as the Level 3 desires are compared to how Comcast claims to treat peering and transit with other CDNs–we only have their word as the deals in question are under NDA–we have to think more clearly about outcomes.

In this instance favoring disruption would seem to foster more growth than clinging to the status quo. I don’t know that Comcast would completely refuse to carry Level 3’s data, they certainly are refuting that idea, but they don’t have the best track record with customer service and honest competition. While this argument between the two companies is going on, for instance, a modem maker has now leveled a complaint about the cableco’s anti-competitive practices, according to Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica.

Asking Comcast to provide more hard details about their backbone carrying arrangements seems like a sane place to start. I for one am getting tired of invocations of this policy or that standard in the absence of useful information. Maybe this is a network neutrality fight, maybe it isn’t. Either way, we need more than PR statements to avoid the risk of a market failure leading to information service gridlock.

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