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back to article US cable giant Comcast accused of internet video 'toll booth'

Internet backbone provider Level 3 Communications says that US cable outfit Comcast is demanding a recurring fee for transmitting internet movies and "other content" to Comcast customers who request the content, accusing the cable provider of violating the Federal Communications Commission's "net neutrality" principles. But …

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ugh

Welcome Comcast users to your new AOL! Today you can still reach outside the company network but that's just for now, plans are in place to create within the Comcast domain the only environment you'll ever need to access (or be able to) ! But that's just for starters - eventually you'll pay to get out of the Comcast network and then pay the receiving ISP as well to deliver your traffic to their subscriber. Probably Comcast will pioneer this architecture, being the 'innovators' that they are.... Ugh. If you don't think we need net neutrality laws you must be a stockholder.

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More information required.

Comcast can be huge twats...but if Level 3 really are trying to push more onto the Comcast network at the peering nodes than Comcast are pushing onto the Level 3 network...Level 3 should be paying.

I never understood these crazy complicated peering arrangements. To my mind, everyone should be paying everyone else to transmit bits across their network. Let’s discus this using two local carriers as examples:

If Shaw wants to transmit 500Gbit worth of traffic into Telus's network, then they should bay 500Gbit*($peering_fee/Gbit). Vice the versa, if Telus wants to transmit 400Gbit of traffic onto Shaw's network, then they should pay 400Gbit*($peering_fee/Gbit). $peering_fee should be the same in both cases. Unfortunately, Shaw and Telus can’t agree to this simple concept (they want to charge each other different $peering_fees) and thus to send a packet from my Telus connection to my buddy right next door it has to make an 18-hop, 750km round-trip. (Which is asinine, since Telus and Shaw both have racks in several dozen of the same facilities here in the city, and could put local peering in place if they could get over their corporate egos.)

This system should be bloody simple; whomever transmits more information pays more. What's really so bloody complicated about this? Hell, this is how consumer lines should work. Either charge per Gbit or by the Mbit/second. Either way, end to end, whomever transmits the most information should pay the most and whomever transmits the least should pay the least.

Apply discounts for buying bandwidth in bulk (in order to attract the larger users to using your network) and you have a functional internet! How the hell did this ever get so bloody complicated? Greedy gits, the lot of them! If you want to transmit a bit across my network, you should pay to transmit that bit. If I want to transmit a bit across your network, I should pay to transmit that bit.

What’s worse is when we start having the Comcast’s of the world wanting people on the other end of the peering arrangement to pay! Example: if Netflix buys bandwidth from Level 3, then Comcast should never be allowed to talk to Netflix about their traffic. They should be talking to Level 3 and that’s that. They should not be allowed to discriminate Level 3’s traffic in any way because Netflix is a customer and they should have to treat all bits coming from Level 3 (or anyone else for that matter) the same. If Level 3 is paying for transit across Comcast’s network, then that traffic is as valid as Comcast’s own traffic, or that of anyone else that peers with Comcast.

Similarly, Level 3 should expect to pay whatever other companies putting similar levels of traffic onto Comcast’s network pay. This isn’t exactly hard maths here. Bits cost money; there is infrastructure required to fling them, and the infrastructure gobbles power and man-hours.

I know it will make me unfavourable with some, but I really am saddened that governments haven’t stepped in and cleaned this crap up. Like Microsoft Licensing, the companies involved have almost no incentive to de-obfuscate what is obviously an unsustainable nightmarish mess. Someone needs to come in, ground these naughty children and enforce a principle of Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you can’t explain the logic behind your peering (or software licensing) in one single A4 sheet of paper at 10pt font, then it’s too damned complicated. Complexity in situations like this limits innovation and raises barriers to entry!

So as per title: a lot more information is required to know who (if anyone) is actually in the right here.

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Stop

Only problem with your theory...

The traffic isn't normally a case of "we're pushing this your way" - it's more "someone over there asked for this".

Liken it to mail-ordering - who should pay the postage? The purchaser or the trader? (hint: the purchaser always pays, though not always directly)

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It doesn't matter who requested it....

The fact that someone over there asked for it is not rellaven. To use the Mail Ordering piece, Consumer pays Trader for goods + packaging and postage.

Trader instructs UPS to deliver the goods.

UPS pays toll fees to cover the cost of the road.

Consumer doesn't care about UPS or the toll roads. Trader doesn't care about the toll roads only that the goods get there.

UPS doesn't care what's in the package.

Net Neutrality comes into play where UPS and the Toll road people look in the package and vary their price based on the content.

Although, to take the analogy a little further, UPS may be interested in the contents of the package when the Consumer is a power station and the Goods being delivered are a 500 Mega Watt generator. The standard UPS van is not going to cut it and they need a specialist haulier and the Toll Road people need to make special provision (including inconveniencing their existing customers) in order to carry the special load.

At the minute, HD movies are still equivalent to the Generator, they are huge!

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Vic
Silver badge

Doesn't work.

> This system should be bloody simple; whomever[sic] transmits more information pays more

My ISP transmits a *lot* more data to my network that I do to theirs. Are you saying they should be paying for my Internet access?

Anything else is double-dipping: my ISP would be charging for data transmitted *to* them on one end, and data transmitted *by* them on the other; they'd be charging twice for the same transit.

Vic.

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Silver badge

Backwards

It would be more like the customer ordered something collect shipping, But UPS wants to also charge the Trader because they are pushing more boxes onto their trucks.

ISP customers download more then they upload (ISPs have a hissy fit if you upload too much), that's why they sell 6M / 768k service. An ISP that thinks they should be paid at both ends needs a good kicking.

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FAIL

Comcast is already being paid

ISPs like Comcast get paid for bandwidth usage from their subscribers. Comcast is double-dipping - trying to get paid by their subscribers AND the services (like Netflix) that their subscribers use. They are trying to offset losses on their own inferior in-house on-demand services. Level3 is not "pushing" anything - they are simply forwarding responses to Comcast's subscriber's requests. Some of those responses happen to be from Level3 subscribers like Netflix.

Since Comcast is the US's largest ISP - having the most subscribers that make the most requests, generating the most responses - they must expect the most traffic coming their way - it is the asymmetric nature of most Internet traffic - i.e. consumers download far more that they upload and providers upload far more than they download.

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As hard as I try....

I just can't feel sorry for Comcast. "But, but, but they're pickin' on me!"

As much as I understand that this issue is more complex than just pro or anti net neutrality, I can't help but hope that Comcast gets their ass kicked all over the interweb.

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Fuckin' Comcast

This is what happens when a consumer ISP starts to think it's a Tier 1. Of course there will be a traffic imbalance - Consumers generally download far more than they upload, and they generally do it from hosts connected through a Tier 1 provider, so there's obviously going to be a bandwidth imbalance. This is why bandwidth money flows up the chain from the end users towards the Tier 1s, and the only settlement-free peering should take place between two Tier 1 carriers.

Comcast should shut the hell up, stop trying to hold it's users hostage against the content providers, and pay a Tier 1 provider to carry their traffic just like everyone else in the world. If they aren't charging enough to use their service (They certainly charge plenty, given they're the only choice for broadband in many of their markets (768kbit DSL is not broadband.)) to cover their expenditures, then change the prices.

Clearly they're just looking for 'alternate revenue streams,' and L3 showed up next on their list of who to try and screw.

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Pint

Competition...

..."should" keep the playing field level.

If customers can't get NETFLIX, they can switch to another provider. If they do not have access to another provider, they can sue Comcast for breach (class action of course.)

Alternatively, in those cities without broadband competition, it's time for another provider to jump in. In the US, it is illegal for municipalities to grant exclusive cable TV franchises. Here in Las Vegas, Century Link is aggressively hanging fiber and bonding plain old copper to deliver 40 Mbit across the valley. They offer a television option, and do not charge for the bandwidth consumed.

On the other hand, my understanding of a Content Delivery Provider is that they deliver the bits to a local node. In my early days as a facilities based ISP, I welcomed AKAMI, who installed their servers inside my data center. This resulted in faster speeds for my customers, and reduced connection costs for me.

If there are opportunities for local cross connects, then Comcast should be peering with Level3 at local market data centers.

Comcast needs to get off their high horse, and get their head out of the high horse's arse. Else see their customer base dwindle while they dawdle.

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Silver badge

Cable monopolies may be technically illegal

but outside of major metropolitan areas, most communities find ways to grant the via other rules under their control.

Me, I'm lucky: FIOS, Comcast, and Dish and probably a whole bunch I haven't researched are all available in my area. But they aren't at my parent's house in a small community.

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Talk about spin

Hate to break it to Comcast, but Level 3 is nt putting any traffic on your network that the Comcast customers haven't asked for. So the cost should be shifted to the Comcast customers. If Comcast cannot provide them with the access that they are paying for at the cost they are paying, then the price is too cheap. Amazing that Comcast touts how fast their network is but doesn't want the customer to use it.

Maybe it is time for Comcast to look at tiered pricing; get X amount of transfer for Y amount of money.

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Stop

Nice to know

That the spineless toadying Conservative wankbuckets we call a government in the UK have announced that this isn't a problem and is therefore not happening in America just the way it won't happen over here.

If Concast can't provide content that their customers prefer to the content L3 provide then that is their problem, moaning and bitching about losing your access monopoly is not going to wash. If they are not making enough profit out of the customers or if the bandwidth growth creates a real problem in network operating cost then they need to put up customer prices for all traffic including their own. Their charge to L3 and therefore L3s customers such as netflix is a deliberate attempt to distort the market in their favour by artificially increasing the price of other services.

Perhaps they are not illegally leveraging their monopoly, maybe they going to charge their own customers the asymmetric traffic fee when they use the Concast provided video services which surely create exactly the same issue for their network? No, didn't think so, bunch of thieving Murdochs.

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Unhappy

This mess can be easily solved.

Comcast and all other ISPs offering Internet access- to end users should not be permitted to offer any kind of content.

It's the same here in Canada where the big Internet service providers are also increasingly content providers and are salivating waiting for the day when they'll be able to corral their users in their private walled stables, sorry, I mean gardens so they can have us stuffed properly.

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Silver badge

Fuck [insert ISP name here]

Because Uncle Sam can't see the forest for the greenbacks stuffed into pols pockets doesn't mean the Sherman anti-trust act isn't still in play.

"Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal."

As I read it, RICO might also come into play, as Comcast is essentially asking protection money for Level 3 packets. Time to strip Comcast and the rest of the regional monopolies and separate "information super-highways" from drivers and auto makers. Imagine if GM could determine the tolls for Ford drivers.

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Silver badge

Sounds like Level 3 is trying to force the FCC's hand.

They may have found a means to force the FCC to an end to the Net Neutrality war. With this issue, they'll HAVE to come down on one side or the other, and each side has important consequences. It basically boils down to whether or not ISPs like Comcast are considered COMMON Carriers or CONTRACT Carriers.

The most important distinction is that if ruled COMMON Carriers, then by US common law they cannot DISCRIMINATE the traffic that flows on their lines. It would be like...Verizon charging extra for you to call non-Verizon customers, you could say.

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In The Same Way...

...that AT&T Cellular charges you more for calls to non AT&T phones?

(AT&T does not charge for calls within its cell network)

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Silver badge

I think you are correct about it all being positioning

for Net neutrality. Other than that you are all wet.

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Silver badge

Clarification.

I was referring to Verizon the landline instead of Verizon Wireless (mobile carriers are still considered CONTRACT carriers--their communications scope is still limited). But if Verizon (landline) were to charge extra for a call to an AT&T landline customer (landline telephone, OTOH, is a COMMON carrier), there would be a legal investigation.

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Unhappy

Function Creep

easy answer for Level3 is just don't deliver to comcast users. obviously you loose a revenue stream but hopefully comcast users will kick up enough of a stink, to make the service providor think twice.. problem is customers just don't complain enough.

its a sad day for the tinterwebs as it becomes segregated into small isolated service provider controlled zones...

and now thanks to that twat Ed Vaizey we in the uk can look forward to a "rich diverse" micro pond style internet where you can connect solely to the service provider at the end of the street and no further "THOU'S TRAFFIC SHALL NOT PASS".

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Headmaster

No, no no

"*THY* TRAFFIC SHALL NOT PASS"

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Bronze badge
Headmaster

I for get the rule...

"*THINE* TRAFFIC SHALL NOT PASS"

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FAIL

Nobody likes you, Comcast.

"what Level 3 wants is to pressure Comcast into accepting more than a twofold increase in the amount of traffic Level 3 delivers onto Comcast's network — for free"

Uh, Level 3 wants to deliver *what your subscribers, who pay you for internet service, are requesting*. Please see definition of "ISP".

And good for Level 3, I say. Put some more of those revenues into upgrading your network and you *can* provide more bandwidth. Take a look at Comcast's quarterly gross revenue: http://www.google.com/finance?q=NASDAQ:CMCSA&fstype=ii

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Gold badge

UK ISPs

With the UK government planning an end to net neutrality in the UK you can expect to see similar things happening here soon.

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Silver badge
Grenade

Pass the costs on

"Level 3 wants to compete with other CDNs, but pass all the costs of that business onto Comcast and Comcast's customers"

Fine. So let them do exactly that.

Comcast charges Level 3 for sending data that Comcast's customers have requested. So allow Level 3 to pass those costs on to those Comcast customers.

And tell those customers "You've paid Comcast for Internet access. Now pay Comcast again for the data you actually want, which they've already contracted to provide you for the existing charge".

They can pay Comcast twice for the same thing. Or they can move to another ISP. Or if they can't move, hullo class action lawsuit.

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when will ISP's get a grip on the fact that...

...it's almost 2011 and people want to watch video's on the internet.

And if we're paying X for it now it does not mean we'll pay X+Y for it tomorrow.

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Terminator

Conflicts of Interest

Telcos shouldn't be allowed to operate media/retail businesses.

The temptation to engage in anti-competitive behaviour, (such as throttling, unlawful surveillance, industrial espionage) is apparently insatiable.

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FAIL

Am I missing something?

Doesn't Level 3 have it's own ISP? Doesn't Level 3 pay that ISP, just like we do, to get content both to and from the web?

Comcast can suck it.

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Stop

No

Level3 is one of the backbone providers. They are the ISP's ISP. The fact is, comcast is the small fish compared to Level3, who builds the internet. If you do a traceroute to anywhere, you have almost 100% chance your data will pass through Level3 somewhere, usually when it's switching between your ISP and the target one.

Level3 should just terminate Comcast's service and say "find yourself a new backbone provider"

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Flame

Kill Comcast

Level3 should just team up with all the other Tier 1 providers, terminate ComCast's service and get all the Tier1's to block ComCast traffic. That should bring down ComCast, as users might not notice the peering bitch-slaps, but they *will* notice when their FaceTube stops working.

Hell, it would probably make enough stink for the FCC to be granted almighty powers to *force* Net Neutrality upon all telcos. They would already be eforcing these rules if the FCC hadn't been slammed down for taking action against Comcast's RST fiasco.

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Silver badge

Cartel behaviour?

But wouldn't that kind of conspiracy be considered anti-competitive cartel behavior?

But some have made a point. Most carrier businesses aren't producers as well. It'd be like Norfolk Southern (North American rail carrier) also owning a mining stake. There'd be an overpowering interest to carry their own ore over someone else's.

That should be brought before the FCC--see if carriers should be allowed to be simultaneous producers, and if so, under what conditions?

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Anyone remember Skype?

It isn't the first time Comcast blocks traffic from a competing procuct. They used to block Skype and Vonage calls.

Now it's obvious they are blocking L3 specifically because they carry Netflix which competes with Comcast's own services/.

This is EXACTLY what Net Neutrality was trying to stop from happening.

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FAIL

When the boot is on the other foot...

Level3 it appears don't like it. When Cogent wanted free imbalanced peering Level3 cut them off. Now Level3 want to do the same as Cogent did and Comcast are telling them where to go it seems they are crying to the FCC.

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Not the same...

"""When Cogent wanted free imbalanced peering Level3 cut them off. Now Level3 want to do the same as Cogent did and Comcast are telling them where to go it seems they are crying to the FCC."""

The difference, of course, is that Cogent is another Tier 1, and Comcast is an consumer ISP, regardless of how much backbone they may have. That means that Comcast carries traffic between a subscriber and an interconnection network, whereas Cogent would commonly carry traffic between two non-subscribing parties.

That means that the peering agreements between Cogent and L3 would be different in nature than the agreements between Comcast and L3. It's nearly criminal that Comcast gets away with a Tier 1 sort of peering agreement - they should be paying L3 quite a lot for all traffic that comes from L3 and goes to a Comcast subscriber - that includes smaller ISPs with payed peering agreements between themselves and Comcast.

Lets hope we can get some legislation before the inevitable netsplit occurs, as opposed to the typical too-little-too-late response governments are good at.

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L3

The only people that own as much copper as them is ATT. If L3 were to cut comcast off, about half of US hosted sites would stop working. Guess who Amazom.com uses .

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Pirate

sderf

Screw Comcast . they need to be run out of town on a rail

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Wait

Wasn't the point of high speed Internet so that we could watch movies ?? It's 2 things. Either comcast can't handle the traffic or they don't want competition.

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Bronze badge

Forgot one thing

People keep on debating this on a "double hop" basis, and this is incorrect. All they argue about (for example) is:

Netflix ->ComCast->Customer

This is correct, but not the whole picture. A more accurate way of representing the problem is as follows:

Creator->CompanyA->CompanyB->....->CompanyY->CompanyZ->Consumer

While this may not be an accurate representation of this actual Netflix/Level3/ComCast row, it *is* a more accurate way of describing the Internet when looking at payment problems:

Creator sends data out to the 'Net via its connection through CompanyA. Company has an agreement with Creator to route its traffic for $A/Gb. Consulting its routing tables, it sends the data to CompanyB, who charges CompanyA $B/Gb to do the same, etc, etc... At the end of this line is the CompanyY who pays CompanyZ $Z/Gb to route its traffic through its network. The fact that the end-recipient (Consumer) is a CompanyZ customer *is irrelevant*: What the Customer pays for is access to CompanyZ's Network - because the customer does not provide any actual routing of traffic to another network, they do not provide *any* service to CompanyZ - both Creator and Customer are purely consumers of bandwidth.

(Note: There generally are reciprocal arrangements between companies, based on the amount of data going each way - this example looked at a specific packet of data being pushed in one direction only)

*That* is a more accurate way of representing the problem and *that* is why both Creator and Consumer pay to transfer/receive the same data. Anything else is wishful thinking on the part of those who have not abstracted the problem.

Now, if ComCast has a *direct* connection to Level3 (ie, Level3->ComCast) and wants to re-negotiate the amount of money Level3 pays to push data through ComCast's network, that's one thing. But if Level3 is more than one hop away from ComCast (eg, Level3->CompA->ComCast), or if ComCast is trying to differentiate based on the *type* of packets being routed, then this is just plain wrong on their part. Packets are Packets, the contents should not matter when it comes to routing.

And if any company tells you otherwise, they are simply trying to cover the fact they sold off more bandwidth than they can supply.

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