Peering Disputes – The Passive Aggressive Approach

In the past, a peering dispute would most certainly take two providers down a path where one would disrupt connectivity to the other. One provider would exert ultimate leverage, by  opting to shut down traffic exchange at the interconnection points. When this happened, customers on either network were no longer able to reach destinations on the other party’s network. As a result, customers were held hostage, especially if they were single-homed or lacked alternate paths to the other network.

Today, this same scenario is playing out, but in a more subtle way, although just as damaging to their businesses. These same providers are having disputes, but neither dares to disrupt connectivity to the other. Instead, they simply allow the links between the traffic exchange points to reach very high levels of utilization, ultimately making for the online equivalent of LA’s 405 Freeway during rush hour. This condition is clearly visible during peak traffic times, but may improve slightly during off-peak hours. Ultimately, the connections become 100 percent utilized 24 hours per day. For customers of either network, the impact is the same: they can’t get to where they want to go online, again being held hostage.

Like the disruption realization scenario, this passive aggressive behavior is the result of one network provider assuming the position that the other provider is taking advantage of their relationship. As a result, the only way to grab their attention is to not upgrade the capacity at the traffic exchange points when connection utilization exceeds 70 or 80 percent of the available capacity for several consecutive hours per day on several consecutive days, as is customary in the service provider industry.

How do these providers avoid this scenario? It’s simple. Like the past, peering relationships need to be nurtured throughout the term of the agreement. I would argue that these stand-offs are the result of badly managed peering relationships, either from sheer neglect or arrogance – a “you need us more than we need you” mentality.

My advice is to proactively negotiate by meeting face-to-face and making a point to educate each other on the comprehensive business relationship, bearing in mind that peering is just one facet of the relationship. For example, due to market positioning, most providers purchase several million dollars’ worth of services from each other annually.  We could share ideas around what’s important to each by making a list – “This is what is important to provider A” and then do the same for provider B. Discuss how what’s on that list impacts the relationship. For example, what are the outcomes of not working together?  For instance, the answer may be: By not augmenting capacity on peering links, they will congest, and our customers will have a poor experience, and so on. Looking at each point objectively will clearly reveal one outcome: if nothing is done, each provider loses revenue.

The way to avoid a passive aggressive peering dispute is to proactively meet and have a discussion about the comprehensive relationship, realizing that the peering relationship is just one part of the comprehensive business relationship. Let’s stop exerting leverage that degrades the quality of traffic exchange and ultimately holds customers hostage.

Let’s get together. Your place or mine?

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I am fortunate enough to have a job that fits my personality to a tee. My responsibilities at Level 3 include negotiating and directing Level 3's strategic IP Interconnection relationships, commonly referred to as peering within the industry. In my free time, I enjoy an early morning run, sports of all types, traveling Internationally and breaking bread over great conversation.

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