A war is raging between Level 3 Communications and Cogent Communications since Wednesday and no resolution is in sight while customers of both ISPs suffer. Level 3 essentially decided that it was bigger than Cogent and that it was more valuable to Cogent than Cogent was valuable to Level 3. As a result, Level 3 decided to cancel the peering arrangement with Cogent that allowed traffic to flow between the two networks without money changing hands and charge Cogent a fee for network access. Cogent refused and Level 3 severed the peering link and customers from both networks suffer as a result. It's almost as if Level 3 figures that there will be fewer angry customers on their side of the fence than the number of angry customers on Cogent's side which is somehow going to put enough pressure on Cogent to capitulate to Level 3's demands. From the customer's point of view on either side of the fence, this is insanity. The truth of the matter is that neither Level 3 customers nor Cogent customers care for the dispute one way or another, they're paying good money to either ISP and they just want to be able to communicate with each other.
This doesn't just affect customers directly connected to either Level 3 or Cogent; it affects any Internet traffic that flows through the Level 3 - Cogent interconnect in either direction. It's a common myth that packets on the Internet flow freely inside a meshed cloud on the Internet. The reality is that packets going from A to B usually take a very narrow route through various Internet Service Providers that are big enough to be called Tier 1 providers. Some companies are fortunate enough to have two independent Tier 1 ISP connections so that they can reroute on the fly using the BGP routing protocol, but many smaller organizations who can't afford dual Internet connections are not so fortunate and they have to suffer.
It seems to me that the only reasonable solution is to have an independent mediator look at the situation and come up with a reasonable compromise that both parties must accept. In the mean time, there really needs to be a temporary restraining order against Level 3 cutting the connection. If there is a judgment in favor of Level 3 from the mediator, then Cogent should have to retroactively pay for the time of the injunction. Whatever solution the mediator comes up with must be accepted by both parties because we simply cannot have a major junction on the information highway be severed due to a contract dispute. If neither company can agree on a mediator, the Government should step in and assign a mediator.
So what would be my "reasonable" solution if I were the mediator? I would say that even if ISP A is bigger than ISP B, it is still beneficial to the customers of ISP A to have access to the resources on ISP B and vice versa. Since the customers of ISP A are the ones ultimately paying the bill, they should have the final say and it is mutually beneficial for both ISP A and B to peer with each other. But what about the situation where ISP B needs to go through ISP A to get to ISP C? In that case, ISP B is using ISP A's network infrastructure to get to ISP C. There is absolutely no benefit for the customers of ISP A to allow the customers of ISP B to get to ISP C, so ISP B should have to either pay or ISP A should have the right to block traffic from ISP B to ISP C. But if ISP A needs to go through ISP B to get to get to ISP D, then it all ends up as a wash. To calculate who owes money, simply calculate the net flow of pass-through traffic and you have a fair and reasonable solution. Tell me what your thoughts are on this in the talkback.