Comcast – Level 3 peering dispute is fundamentally different

Originally posted 30 November 2010 at 15:31 hrs.

Hot in the past 48 hours of networking news is the Comcast – Level 3 dispute. Comcast paints this as a Net Neutrality issue while others call it just another peering dispute. Yes, this is a peering dispute, but it’s different from the disputes of the past 15-18 years.

The core of the Internet (where previous peering disputes have taken place) has a history of competition. Until now, none of the backbone providers has been able to leverage a government-granted monopoly to significantly alter their competitive position in peering disputes. Indeed, the original backbone providers, when the NSF withdrew in the early 90s, thought they had a preferred position, but they hadn’t been granted a monopoly. Within just a few years, backbone competitors built a “donut” of peering agreements around them, then Akamai, Google, etc. changed the rules again.

What’s different this time is that Comcast is leveraging government-granted monopolies to their advantage in negotiating backbone peering agreements. As Susan Crawford puts it, although w/o emphasizing the government-granted monopoly issue:

“Comcast, the largest broadband provider, largest pay-TV company and third-largest telephone company in the country distributes communications services to more than a third of the country. Today Comcast’s existing overwhelming market power was on display in major public battles with (1) Level 3 and (2) cable modem manufacturer Zoom.

“The takeaway from today: No market forces are constraining Comcast – or any of the other major cable distributors, none of which compete with each other.”

< the rest is at: >

Reasonable folks can argue what, if anything, should be done, but first we should acknowledge the fundamental difference between the Comcast-Level 3 dispute and the more typical Cogent dust ups of years gone by.