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Verizon, Netflix continue net neutrality war of words

Level 3 had its say on how Verizon was slowing Netflix videos, and now Verizon is firing back. At the same time, Netflix lashed out at ISPs for slowing its traffic.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Last week, Mark Taylor, VP of Content and Media at Level 3, a global tier 1 business and consumer Internet provider, accused Verizon of deliberately slowing down Netflix videos. Those are fighting words!

Netflix ISP Traffic June 2014
No matter who you blame for Verizon's slow broadband, Netflix's numbers show that its video traffic travels at a comparative crawl on Verizon.

So it should come as no surprise that on July 21, Verizon fired back. A blog posting by David Young, Verizon's VP of Federal Regulatory Affairs, put the responsibility for Netflix's slow speeds squarely on Level 3's shoulders.

Young wrote, "Last week, Level 3 decided to call attention to their congested links into Verizon’s network. Unlike other Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which pay for connections into ISP networks to ensure they have adequate capacity to deliver the content they have been hired to deliver, Level 3 insists on only using its existing settlement-free peering links even though, as Level 3 surprisingly admits in their blog, these links are experiencing significant congestion. Level 3’s solution? Rather than buy the capacity they need, Level 3 insists that Verizon should add capacity to the existing peering link for additional downstream traffic even though the traffic is already wildly out of balance."

Young's logic for this: In a 2005 conflict between Level 3 and Cogent over network peering, Level 3 refused to continue a free peering relationship because "Cogent was using far more of Level 3's network, far more of the time, than the reverse....We decided that it was unfair for us to be subsidizing Cogent’s business."

In Internet peering, two ISPs agree to send and receive traffic from each other without charging any fees. This concept is part of the foundation of network neutrality. 

According to Young,  today's Verizon and Level 3 dispute is essentially the same as the 2005 conflict between Cogent and Level 3. He continued: "So what has changed for Level 3? Unfortunately, they are now the one 'trying to get a free ride on someone else’s network' and failing to 'keep the interest of their customers paramount.' "

While Level 3 is "passing on commenting" on this latest shot from Verizon, the two cases aren't the same. The Cogent/Level 3 conflict was between two backbone Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In the case of Level 3 and Verizon, Level 3 is the backbone ISP providing high-speed, 10Gbps connections to a consumer/business ISP, Verizon. In short, the first case was between ISP backbone providers, while the Level 3/Verizon case is between a backbone provider and a downstream ISP. 

Young concluded that "Verizon and Netflix have found a way to avoid the congestion problems that Level 3 is creating by its refusal to find 'alternative commercial terms.' We are working diligently on directly connecting Netflix content servers into Verizon’s network so that we both can keep the interests of our mutual customers paramount."

Netflix decline to comment on this, but they announced in April an interconnect agreement with Verizon.  Netflix isn't happy about it, though.

In a memo to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, said "Our focus on strong net neutrality, including interconnection, is about preventing large ISPs from holding our joint customers hostage with poor performance to extract payments from us, other Internet content firms, and Internet transit suppliers such as Level 3 and Cogent."

As for Verizon's work on directly connecting Netflix servers into Verizon network, presumably using Netflix's Open Connect CDN system, it doesn't seem to be having any positive effect yet. Netflix's ISP Speed Index shows that Verizon FiOS is continuing to fall in the speed ratings and Verizon DSL is the slowest of all major national ISP services.

No matter who you blame for these network slowdowns, the simple truth is that Verizon's customers are not getting the best possible Netflix experience.

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