Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

Summary: It’s finally happened. A major ISP, Comcast, is "taxing" Level 3 Communications for streaming Netflix movies to your door. Welcome to the end of network neutrality.


Network neutrality is a simple concept: ISPs shouldn’t play favorites with the content that goes over their parts of the Internet. It’s a concept that harks back to the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX) in 1991 when the first Internet carries agreed to share connections equally with each other. Although CIX is now largely forgotten, it’s what started the Internet on its way from a backwater for researchers and schools to the omnipresent network in which we live, work, and play today.

Now, Comcast, appears to be the first major ISP to break that old CIX rule of network neutrality. Level 3 Communications, one of Netflix’s content delivery network (CDN) partners has accused Comcast of charging Level 3 extra fees for carrying Netflix’s movies.

Thomas Stortz, Chief Legal Officer of Level 3, wrote that out of the blue “On November 19, 2010, Comcast informed Level 3 that, for the first time, it will demand a recurring fee from Level 3 to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content. By taking this action, Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content which competes with its own cable TV and Xfinity-delivered content. This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access markets as the nation’s largest cable provider.”

Stortz added: “On November 22, after being informed by Comcast that its demand for payment was ‘take it or leave it,’ Level 3 agreed to the terms, under protest, in order to ensure customers did not experience any disruptions.”

Comcast claims otherwise. To hear its side of the story, this is just an old-fashioned business disagreement over peering. Peering, which was also an issue hashed out by CIX back in the early 90s, concerns how much traffic one ISP can carry of another ISP’s traffic before charging additional fees. Comcast claims that Level 3 wanted Comcast to carry five times the traffic it was sending to Level 3.

That, if true, sounds fair. But think about it for a moment. Who is asking for all that Level 3/Netflix traffic? Comcast’s own customers, of course. The last thing Comcast wants is to charge its customers more. But, if the company can force the expense on Level 3, and from them to Netflix, then Netflix will be the one in trouble with customers, not Comcast.

I call a foul on Comcast. This strikes me not only as a violation of network neutrality, but as remarkably short-sighted.

Comcast, you may remember, is buying NBC Universal. NBC, in turn, is one of the companies behind Hulu. Guess who just opened its own subscription-based Internet TV service, Hulu Plus? Why, yes, if you follow the dots, this means that Comcast is on the ground-floor of what should eventually be Netflix’s main competitor.

Let me add that Netflix’s new online video-only monthly fee is $7.99 and that Hulu Plus is also --what a surprise!-- also $7.99 per month. From Comcast’s viewpoint, wouldn’t it be great if Netflix had to raise its rates?

If you also think that Comcast is playing fast and loose with network neutrality for its own gain, Consumer Union, best known as Consumer Reports’ parent company, has started a petition to block the Comcast/NBC merger. In addition, Progressive Change, a liberal political group, has initiated a petition demanding that the FCC make sure that Internet traffic be “free of any interference from network operators like Comcast.” I recommend signing both.

Topics: Browser, Networking, Telcos

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  • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

    Comcast: Come back, Mr. Piracy, we really, really missed you!!!
    • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

      Mr. Piracy is alive and well I'm afraid.
  • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

    Comcrap did such a fine job ! of mismanagement as it ruined television, so please feel free to jump on a new dog.'sarcasm'
  • Net Neutrality is nothing more than Fairness Doctrine

    for the internet. The arguments back then were the same, too. Evil business should not be able to unfairly determine what content viewers heard over the airwaves. The actual intent is also the same: To shut up dissent.
    • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

      Hmm, not quite. This is an antitrust issue, not a 1st Amendment one. The Internet provides a unique platform for large media conglomerates (like Comcast) to squash competition. Comcast and the cable operators want to become portals like the old Prodigy service. The real rub is the federally-mandated monopoly over local cable services. If there was true competition at the local level, Comcast would not DARE to pull a stunt like this. We have to start treating the Internet like the infrastructure piece it is, like roadways, telephone, and electric. If you absolutely must compare this to something, it's like your local electric company charging Trane when you turn on your A/C on a hot summer day.
      • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

        Excellent analogy!
      • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

        @smbulkley Amen and then some! I have to use Charter in order to (sometimes) get enough bandwidth to view Netflix, Hulu+ or even Charter's TV "service". I have had their repair people out at least 8 times in two months. I am on my fourth tv box. Since there is no competition, they charge up the wazoo for very little, indeed.
      • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

        @smbulkley<br><br>There is competition. ATT got the Tennessee legislature, and several others I'm sure, to put it in direct competition with Comcast cable and phone services. Frankly, Comcast may be going at it the wrong way, but why should they (and their customers not using Netflix, like me) have to suffer slower speeds as high resolution movies eat up bandwidth?<br><br>Seems to me that if a company like Netflix plans to make a substantial change in its business model affecting bandwidth issues, they should have initiated the conversation -- njot just wait until Comcast began to feel the problems.
      • hiding a real issue though

        People are finally going to have to come to grips with something that's been clear for a decade to people in computing: The Internet is a not a suitable transport for EVERY movie, TV broadcast, radio station, and every other human medium. That's just abuse at some point, and it will choke traffic. In this case it's the jerks at Comcast persecuting a competitor, but let's face it: Netflix and its ilk are profiting by slowing down the Internet for everyone.
      • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

        @smbulkley except the difference is that, the roads are government owned (unless they are toll roads like FL's Turnpike, which is private). When you ride on the turnpike, you pay the toll. The internet is nothing more than a huge set of networks which are all privately owned. Peering holds the internet together. If Level 3 wants to abuse this, then they will be charged. Its that simple.
    • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

      @frgough : Who is your Master? Who pays you to defend the privileged against the public? Or are you an independent stooge?

      People like you want the Grand Canyon walled up so that you can charge people to peer at through your privately-owned peepholes. Double the price if you want to use BOTH eyes.
  • Blessed Are The Meek (But Not Comcast)

    Aside from Comcast's predatory billing practices with its own customers, it has also been guilty of disrupting torrent traffic and switching XXX programming into children's cable channels. This is a company which is hated by its customers, and it consistently has relatively poor customer service ratings in an industry that ranks as one of the most poorly-regarded in America.
    • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

      @Cresence It leads you to question how a company with such poor customer service has so many customers. It's because they're no longer obligated to lease their lines to competitors at fair rates and have been given monopolies in many locales based on deals they cut with municipal governments to own all of the cables. We need both net neutrality and a law forcing them to lease their lines in order for the market to straighten this out, as it stands right now the market can't do anything because Comcast is the defacto monopoly in many municipalities. Afterall, phone companies are forced to lease lines, why should cable be different? Remember how land-line rates plumeted and service improved in the 80s and 90s when the government forced AT&T to share?
  • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

    I am all in favor of network neutrality, and this article is a clear sign that some sort of regulation is needed.

    But let us also be careful not to go too far. ISPs still need to be able to traffic-shape by service. E.g. if I'm an ISP, I should still be able to "slow" traffic on port 25 (email) and give priority to (say) port 80 (web). Discrimination by service, not by source, should still be allowed.
    • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

      @wcroth45 <br><br>Uh, no. For one thing, not everyone uses the default ports. In fact, it's often not a great idea to use the default ports. If you do have a service using default ports, secure the hell out of it.<br><br>ISPs can't possibly keep track of all the ports their users are using, because 1. They can't keep up with the sheer number of applications, and 2. Many applications choose ports at random for sundry reasons ranging from basic security practice to getting around grossly inadequate firewalls.<br><br>ISPs MAY be able to get away with offering CUSTOMERS the option to fine tune their bandwidth, but the whole point is that the want their customers less empowered, not more.
  • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

    Oh crap, when i get back to the usa i know which ISP not to get...


    Good day people
    • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

      @ozl@... That's great in theory but the problem is that in some areas you pretty much have no choice. It's either Comcast, dial-up, or satellite. There are obvious speed issues with dial-up and the same can be said for satellite, not to mention the cost of the service.
      Steve Goldman
  • more charges warrented

    I have no problem with Comcast charging as a function of bandwidth used, but they shouldn't be able to charge based on what's in the packets.

    • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet


      Then we should get to choose to do business with someone who has a better capital investment strategy, i.e. someone whose prices are either falling in correlation to the falling prices of "fast ethernet" or someone whose data rates are increasing with the pace of technology. You know 100,000Mbit per second is out, right? What is Comcast serving you? 20Mbps?
    • RE: Comcast, Level 3, Network Neutrality, and your Internet

      @gdstark13 I think that charge should go to Comcast's customers because they're the ones choosing to use that bandwidth... Plus the customers are already the ones who are paying for a certain bandwidth quota, we're not paying for 50GB from Cogent, 20GB from Above, 10GB from internap and 100GB from L3.