Net Neutrality Fight Peaks at FCC Deadline
After technical issues at the FCC's website forced an extension, the final deadline for comments on the Commission’s Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will arrive tonight at midnight. So far, no one has been shy about expressing an opinion.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has filed a lengthy document urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to avoid reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers, limit new regulatory mandates, and refrain from addressing interconnection agreements within the Open Internet framework. Among other issues, the filing contends that Internet Service Providers should not be required to reveal more detailed information about network congestion. Declaring that "the current transparency regime is sufficient to protect Internet openness," the NCTA asked the FCC to reject calls for greater disclosure.
From the document:
- The Commission likewise should reject the proposal to require ISPs to "disclose meaningful information regarding the source, location, timing, speed, packet loss, and duration of network congestion." As an initial matter, congestion at a particular point in the network is not necessarily evidence that the quality of service to consumers has been degraded, because ISP networks are built with redundant paths that enable Internet traffic to be routed around points of congestion. Furthermore, as the NPRM acknowledges, network congestion can occur at any point in the Internet, not just the last-mile portion controlled by ISPs. For example, some large content providers like Netflix may choose to route traffic over congested links from transit providers rather than spending more money to route traffic over open links from CDNs.
The NCTA's comments allude to the ongoing public battle between Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and such major broadband service providers as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) over who is to blame for declines in video streaming performance. (See Verizon Threatens to Sue Netflix.)
Not too surprisingly, Netflix has filed its own concerns with the FCC, and stated a position that is directly counter to the NCTA's. In its official comments regarding the Open Internet NPRM, Netflix said that:
- The Commission should adopt clear and strong open Internet protections that prevent blocking, interconnection access tolls, unreasonable discrimination, and paid prioritization on any point in the network controlled by the terminating ISP. Transparency rules should be augmented to require ISPs to provide meaningful, real-time disclosures of network performance and congestion to keep the public properly informed.
Further, Netflix argued that "failing to address interconnection abuse by terminating ISPs will undermine the efficacy of any open Internet or consumer protection rules that the Commission adopts in these proceedings."
Caught in the middle between Netflix and ISPs are transit providers like Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) and Cogent Communications Group Inc. (Nasdaq: CCOI). In addition to official comments by both companies asking the FCC to intervene on interconnection agreements, Level 3 has extended the debate to its corporate blog.
In a post on July 17 (hat tip, DSLReports), the company claims that Verizon has inadvertently admitted to "deliberately constraining capacity from network providers like Level 3 that were chosen by Netflix to deliver video content requested by Verizon's own paying broadband customers." The post concludes that "all of the networks have ample capacity and congestion only occurs in a small number of locations, locations where networks interconnect with some last mile ISPs like Verizon."
The Level 3 rhetoric is the latest in a series of accusations suggesting that ISPs are allowing specific peering points to degrade. However, veteran engineer Peter Sevcik pointed out recently that Netflix’s performance across all ISPs improved when the company signed a direct interconnection deal with Comcast. The agreement removed traffic from the middle-mile networks, relieving congestion everywhere. Sevcik does not blame middle-mile network providers like Level 3 and Cogent, but instead noted that Netflix could be buying more capacity. (See Netflix's Problem Is Its Transit Network – Report.)
The FCC will have a lot to consider as it combs through the latest Open Internet commentary. One thing that's clear, however, is that arguments over network interconnection agreements have steadily crept further into the net neutrality debate. Level 3 VP Bill Wohnoutka said recently that he believes the industry will make significant progress on peering capacity issues over the next year. (See Net Neutrality: Level 3 Sees Peering Progress Soon.)
The question, however, is what role will the FCC play? (See Net Neutrality Redux? FCC Probes Peering Problems.)
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading