“Chicken” | A Game Played as a Child and by some ISPs with the Internet

In the wake of the DC Circuit’s net neutrality ruling, there has been quite a bit of media attention around congestion on the Internet and its effects on consumers, including alleged impacts on the quality of Netflix video streams and the ability to use Amazon Web Services.  There is further speculation that this congestion could force large content distributors into cutting deals directly with Internet Service Providers (ISP) to avoid congestion the ISPs themselves are perpetuating.  While this is news du jour, it is a problem that has really been around for several years.  The problem is the game of “chicken” some last mile ISPs are playing with the Internet.

A few questions to set the table:

Is your broadband connection really slow sometimes? Do movies or videos download poorly, not at all or become pixilated? Do you get messages like this one below?

netneutralityDo you assume, “Jeez, lots of people must be using the Internet right now”?

You might be wrong.

The Internet is a series of fiber and wireless networks owned by carriers around the world that connect consumers to content and applications available on the Internet.   No single provider – no matter how big – connects to all of the subscribers on the Internet or to all of the content on the Internet.  To connect it all together (to give all subscribers access to all content), providers must spend money and connect their networks together.  This “network of networks” is the Internet.

Residential broadband ISPs promise their subscribers access to all of the content on the Internet, not just some of it.  They also know full well that, in the Internet as it exists today, much more data will be downloaded by consumers (think of watching an HD Netflix movie) than uploaded (think of clicking your mouse to ask Netflix to send you that movie).  As such, all ISPs offer download speeds that are faster than upload speeds.

To honor the promises they make consumers, these ISPs must then connect their networks to the other networks that can supply any Internet content the ISPs cannot provide themselves (which is most of it).   It also means that as overall Internet content gets bigger (think of HD movies versus e-mails), all providers must “augment” their networks – making them bigger to accommodate the exponential growth due to the Internet’s success.

Some ISPs, however, have refused to augment their networks UNLESS the content providers they connect to agree to pay them to do so.  Viewed in the light most favorable to these ISPs, they want content suppliers to pay not only for their own increased costs of supplying more robust Internet content, but also for any increased network costs of the ISPs too.  This is not only unreasonable on its face, but it is entirely inconsistent with published reports indicating that returns on invested capital for ISPs are excellent, and are expected to improve even further, driving considerable additional growth in economic profits.  More cynically, these ISPs simply view these arbitrary tolls as new sources of revenue for their last mile bottleneck monopolies or as a way to unfairly discriminate against content that competes with the content the ISPs themselves supply.

So what if content providers refuse to pay?  Some ISPs agree to augment capacity on reasonable terms.  But other ISPs try to strong arm the content providers into paying by playing a game of “chicken” with the Internet.  These ISPs break the Internet by refusing to increase the size of their networks unless their tolls are paid.  These ISPs are placing a bet that because content providers have no other way to get their content to the ISPs subscribers, that they will cave in and start paying them.

And none of this is new.  These last mile ISPs know full well the consequences of what they are doing.  We wrote AT&T about it in February 2011.  We have written to other ISPs about it since then. In each of these cases, we offered to sit with the ISP to hammer out a fair, equitable, scalable and resilient network architecture, but to no avail.  We have also advised the FCC of the issue on more than one occasion, beginning in 2013 and as recently as three weeks ago.

And while this game of chicken plays out, and it is playing out right now, many ISP networks remain too congested to handle all of the Internet traffic their subscribers paid them to deliver, and here is some of what can happen:

  • VoIP telephone calls may not be connected, may be disconnected if connected initially or, while connected, may have poor quality or be unintelligible.  This includes 911 calls.
  • Access to online video applications (like Netflix, Sony, Apple, Google, Amazon and others) or online streaming services (Major League Baseball, for example) can be impacted, resulting in an inability of subscribers to use those services.  These problems are particularly bad at peak usage times.
  • Interactive web browsing can be adversely affected.  Subscribers and businesses using the Internet to complete banking transactions, access medical records, cast a vote, visit social networking sites or  access employer data and systems while working from home (or telecommuting) will find that their applications are running slowly, and in cases of extreme congestion, browsing sessions may fail completely.  Users may also get error messages, causing them to wonder whether whatever transaction they were trying to complete – such as online purchases or banking – were even concluded.

So if you think that your Internet connection is slow just because lots of people are online at the moment, you could be wrong.  You could be a victim of your ISP’s game of chicken.

Some say network neutrality is a solution looking for a problem.  We disagree.

UPDATE: On Friday, March 21, 2014, Level 3 made our most recent filing with the FCC regarding this net neutrality issue. Read the full brief.

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Michael Mooney

I serve as General Counsel, Regulatory Policy here at Level 3 Communications.

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82 thoughts on ““Chicken” | A Game Played as a Child and by some ISPs with the Internet

  1. Between the low speeds, high prices, and limiting data caps available in my area, the industry is serving us horribly. And I see no steps in the right direction to solve any of these problems. Paying for 18Mb and getting 3-6 at peak hours? Guess I’ll have to sign on with another ISP. Oh, there isn’t one!

    • Brock, Thank you for your comment.
      One solution, which we have and will continue to be advocating for in Washington, is for the FCC to address these interconnection types of issues as part of its ongoing net neutrality proceedings, and we are optimistic it will. In the same way as last mile ISPs should not be able to discriminate directly against third party provided content, they should not be able to do the same thing indirectly by forcing content companies and intermediary providers into a no win choice of either paying the ISP arbitrary tolls or suffering through lower bitrates and degraded service quality for streaming video.

      • If congress did rule in favor of net neutrality wouldn’t that just mean the ISPs would instead give customers another unjustifiably high rate hike? Wouldn’t a better solution instead be to promote small business growth, particularly in technology industries like last mile ISPs?

        • No. An ISP’s costs to augment congested interconnection capacity is very low (like 5-15k, one time, per location), and would not need to be passed on to anyone. Further, as noted in the post, ISPs publicly reported returns on invested capital belie any contention that augmenting last mile networks is somehow cost prohibitive to the ISPs. Congestion is merely a game being played by some ISPs to either degrade the quality of content competing with the ISPs own content or to raise its rivals costs. More to come on that.

    • Lucky you! Time Warner cable is the sole provider in my area. Pay for 50 Mbps and receive 1-2 Mbps for 20 out of 24 hours in a day. I can’t believe it’s legal for cable companies to sell services they can’t even provide. Here’s to hoping the FCC stops having their pockets filled by lobbyist!

    • Mr Mooney,

      I agree with your criticisms regarding the cable industry in this matter. However, a bigger problem is that IT professionals such as myself have a very limited arsenal in explaining this issue to clients who are dazzled by the advertised low cost / high speed of cable connections -vs- dedicated QoS bound connections that have a much higher price.

      Another issue you should be aware of is (or perhaps you already are) is that when latency tests are run from cable clients to end hosts, especially those that are hosted on you infrastructure, the bottlenecks display as being a problem on Level 3’s end and not the cable provider.

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  5. A simplistic view of net neutrality is “all packets are equal.” But as noted, VoIP and video don’t work well if traffic isn’t prioritized. There’s the additional issue that traffic across the internet ‘backbone’ is expensive, and it makes sense to reduce that traffic by adding local servers at the ISP level for high-bandwidth providers. Requiring such providers to pay those costs can limit competition and innovation. Perhaps such requirements should be waived for start ups, defined by income and/or the network traffic they drive.

    I feel that ISPs should be split into delivery and provider entities, similar to how the electrical energy market has been deregulated in some states. One advantage is that neither entity would be able to impede the data flow for a competitor’s service, e.g. video on demand from Netflix versus the ISP’s offering.

    • Back in the day when I worked for a local ISP, Akamai provided us with three servers to host in our network. For free, mind you. By hosting these three servers on our network, it was a value-add for our customers as content from major content providers was delivered much more quickly and for us as we had less redundant traffic traversing our up-link.

      Today, the analog seems to be “Hey, Akamai, we will host those three servers for some-thousand dollars per month.” Or, heck, just go right to the source content provider and extort them for the dosh.

      Somewhere along the line it seems Internet Service Providers forgot their middle name.

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  7. Well Micheal, you’re customers and interconnection partners are going to hate this… But perhaps its the only solution.

    Its time for a name and shame traffic report.

    Publish the stats for your various interconnections, so those of us who do live in markets where we have a choice can choose those who are doing the right thing… and apply pressure to those who are not.

    I know in the Uk there are rules about a product being fit for service. If there are UK ISPs playing this game, it might be worth telling us so we, the customer can hit em back.

    • Thanks for the comment, Chad. While we don’t think this is the only solution (we will suggest others to the FCC as well), some sort of transparency requirement that shows consumers how their ISPs are behaving is certainly something the FCC should consider as part of its net neutrality proceedings.

    • Yes! Name names. The only way to stop these companies from bullying content providers and screwing their customers is to shine a spot light on what they’re doing and make them explain their actions to consumers.

  8. Do you know if the situation on the other side of the ocean is this bad, when it comes to peering?
    I live in Finland, and I have no problems accessing content, no matter the provider, but at the end of the day, it’s not like I would be told if there’s some sort of agreement between providers etc. to pay for peering.

    Honestly, this might end up at a point where companies like Level 3 might have to simply stop delivering content to users, so that they’ll get angry enough at their Service Providers.

  9. The truth of net neutrality summed up in one article.

    But I was wondering, instead of negotiating with ISPs, why not push the FCC for common carriage classification for last-mile ISPs?

  10. Nice article even if I disagree on the conclusions. I do understand where Level3 comes from in this discussion, yes I am a customer of you so I guess I have a payed peering with Level3 ;-). There has been multiple attempts on how to take care of the ever increasing volume off “live” content, like video streams. The old solution back before 2000 was transparent caching of content on the edge of the access networks, seems this have come back also, with the CDN setup´s that have different business models behind them. My opinion on this is more like we had a go on i the Norwegian marked couple of years back, where the major content providers, service providers, hardware vendors and regulators sat down and actually found a solution, and yes, the so called paid peering works as long as the “QOS” can be managed correctly, like any other QOS based service in a modern service provider network. Level3 via this blog is pointing at VOIP as a suffering service but most service providers run QOS in there access networks and then I guess Internet is one class of traffic and not something that “kills” VOIP.
    I like Level3 and the service i buy from you but what you are entering via this blog is in my opinion not a smart move…

    • Thanks for your comments, Bjorn, and for being a Level 3 customer. One thing I would note—when you buy service from Level 3, we are not your only choice of providers—there are many other competitive options. Unfortunately, when we send a video an ISP’s customer has asked to view, our only choice of provider to get that video to the consumer is the ISP. That gives the ISP a dangerous amount of power, which needs to be kept in check. When the ISP offers services that compete with third party content being delivered over the Internet, the opportunity and motivation for the ISP to discriminate against that competition is enormous, and QoS is one way such discrimination can occur. We are not saying there is not a way for this to work, but we believe it requires some form of regulatory oversight to protect consumers by ensuring the ISP’s behavior is transparent, fair and non-discriminatory.

      • I think there are more options than the ones you point to Michael, and the ISP´s are not as “bad” as you seem to believe ;-).
        I think there is a willingness to pay for guaranteed quality and this has nothing to do with regulations or net neutrality like I have understood it to be. One challenge in this “game” is the nature of WWW and traffic across multiple networks, just look at the Level3 peering regime and how this might change depending on some “rules”. I have asked the Tier1´s for the past at least 10 years about QOS over the Internet, and not just the “best effort” class within QOS. I am told it can´t be done and I guess as long as this is the conclusion, one need to use other means to “force” more of the QOS regime in access and national ISP networks to be “open” for best effort traffic. I know there are solutions that can be used and as stated in my first posting, this has been done in the Norwegian marked space and might be easy to copy by just having a chat with the right people 🙂

        • Thanks for the follow up, Bjorn. I have 3 reactions, then I will give you the final comment if you want it. 1) I will look at what was done in the Norwegian marketplace. 2) I agree that not all ISPs are “bad,” using your word. As noted in the post, some have worked with us and others to agree to reasonable and mutually acceptable terms for the exchange of Internet traffic. But others refuse to talk to us other than to demand their unilaterally imposed and arbitrary tolls as a condition to their alleviating the congestion they are allowing to occur on the Internet between us and their subscribers (to whom they control the only access). That’s not right, and that’s where we think government has a role. 3) We are not advocating for regulation of the Internet. We are advocating for regulatory oversight over the interconnection between the Internet as a whole and last mile bottleneck access providers, and we feel that is appropriate because, as noted above, they control the only access to their subscribers. Plus, for hundreds of millions of people, there is only one broadband provider available to them, so even if they don’t like what the ISP is doing, they have no other broadband option. As such, no competitive forces are at work to regulate ISP behavior, the tolls they seek to charge, the content they favor (which could include content the ISP themselves own and sell) and disfavor , etc. To quote the US FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler “I’ve spoken about the primacy of ‘competition, competition, competition,’ and how our competition policy will take a “see-saw” approach: when competition is high, regulation can be low; when competition is low, we are willing to act in the public interest.” Others have commented that the FCC won’t possibly act in this area. We think they have an appetite to do so, and that they should.

  11. One of the things you neglected to mention is that Level 3’s connections to other ISPs are done at peerings governed by a contractual agreement between both parties. Settlement-free peerings are supposed to be meetings of equals, and the agreements usually specify that the amount of traffic in both directions should be substantially the same or within some ratio beyond which the peering is no longer considered “equal.” Comcast’s terms (http://www.comcast.com/peering), for example, say “a general balance” and Verizon (http://www.verizonenterprise.com/terms/peering) specififies an ratio of 1.8:1.

    Here’s a challenge: if you truly believe Level 3 is being strongarmed by its peers, prove it to the public whose opinion you’re trying to sway. For each contested peering, publish the levels of outbound and inbound traffic and the ratios you’ve agreed to maintain. (I have no belief this will actually happen, because if there was good counsel involved in writing your peering agreements, there’s a nondisclosure clause. There’s also the possibility that being wrong would be a corporate embarrassment.)

    If you’re within those ratios, you end up holding the moral high ground and your cause will be lent a lot more credibility than just crying discrimination. If your peers don’t believe they’re strongarming you, they’ll publish their numbers to disprove your accusations.

    Like Cogent, Level 3 has customers that generate a lot of outbound traffic; I know Akamai and Netflix to be among them. My suspicion is that Level 3 is handing its peers far more traffic than it attracts in the other direction, enough so that the agreed-upon ratios are in the rear-view mirror. If that’s the case and Level 3 isn’t willing to pay for transit on the difference, it isn’t your peers playing chicken, it’s you.

    Level 3’s own peering policies (http://www.level3.com/en/legal/ip-traffic-exchange-policy) demand adjustments from other ISPs when peerings get lopsided to keep the deal settlement-free. Those adjustments include “purchase of services from the other party.” Are you sure this isn’t just a case of Level 3 not wanting to make good on the terms of its peering agreements because it’s going to cost money?

    Thanks for your time.

    • Thanks for this, Mark. While you are right that confidentiality restrictions generally prevent the disclosure of deal terms, you are actually wrong that all of these deals include ratios, as many of them do not. And with good reason. It is because ratios (which only reflect traffic direction) have nothing whatsoever to do with network costs. If the traffic direction and thus the ratio at a given interconnection point between us and an ISP were flipped, each party’s costs would remain the same, because the infrastructure and capacity required on each party’s network would remain the same. What drives network costs is “bit miles”, i.e. the amount of traffic (i.e. the bandwidth) carried and the distance it is carried by each network. ISPs who want to cite to ratios are just looking for an excuse to charge an access toll wholly unrelated to any network costs they bear. Level 3’s interconnection policy is based on bit miles – we believe a fair approach to peering is to measure and compare the bit miles carried by each party, to ensure that each network is doing its fair share in carrying traffic—and we will interconnect with other networks without charging a fee as long as networking costs (measured as noted above) are roughly balanced between the parties (and traffic balancing can occur along the way in a variety of ways). If network costs are not roughly balanced, then it is fair for a fee to be assessed based on the imbalance. These (and other deals seeking to equitably share networking costs) are those we have and will continue to explore in the market, but some broadband ISPs want to play “chicken” instead. They don’t seem interested in fairness or providing the high quality access to Internet content that their customers are already paying them for, they just want to get paid more, disadvantage competing content, or both.

      • I didn’t say they all include a ratio, but most of the tier-1s do. I looked. Having been out of the business for over a decade, all I can go on are the policies that ISPs make public. That isn’t to say there aren’t private deals with different policies, but I’d have to assume that if a candidate peer can’t meet the public policies, there’s not going to be much discussion.

        Using bit-miles is really just a way of skewing a 1:1 ratio based on distance. That’s a good model if you’re primarily in the long-haul business because it encourages peers to use their own long-haul networks instead of yours to deliver traffic at the peering topologically closest to the destination. AS701-sized ISPs may have enough empty long-haul plumbing that they don’t mind having to carry it most of the distance. Encouraging peers to deliver traffic closer to the origin gives them the ability to improve service quality by having control over more of the path. So it really comes down to what you’re after as a business, and I can see valid arguments both ways.

        I had a front-row seat for the industry-wide peering spat of 1998. What’s happening now is the same thing that happened then: ISPs on the short end of lopsided peerings want compensation for the difference. The recent Comcast deal may signal that Netflix has had an epiphany. They’ve finally come to understand that when your traffic is heavily lopsided and the bulk of your subscribers are on last-mile ISPs, the more successful model is going to be cutting out the middlemen (e.g., Level 3 and Cogent) and doing direct, settlement-based peerings. As Neflix and others start offloading more traffic across those peerings, the wedged peerings will settle down to something closer to sane and the whole issue will go away, at least until the cycle repeats itself with some other service.

        • Hey Mark. Thanks for the follow up. Just a couple of comments. First, we are a Tier 1, as I know you know. And I can tell you, because I looked, that many of our contracts do not contain ratios, nor do they incorporate peering policies. If what you looked at was peering policies (because as you noted before, the actual contracts are confidential), then I will grant you that some of them have been changed by ISPs to include ratios, but that does not make them part of a contract. No one contracting party can unilaterally change the deal it has made with another party, including by unilaterally implementing a new “policy”. Second, bit mile interconnection has nothing to do with ratios, and skews nothing. Bit mile interconnection simply says that if the number of bits multiplied by the number of miles one party carries traffic is roughly equal to the number of bits multiplied by the number of miles the other party carries traffic (regardless of traffic direction) that neither party should charge the other. It’s one of several methods that interconnection arrangements can use to evaluate whether one party should pay the other based on the real costs each incurs, rather than one party being able to asses an arbitrary toll–wholly unrelated to its costs–simply because it has a stranglehold on the consumer. This approach favors companies that accept to invest in infrastructure and do their fair share to carry the traffic, and as such the solution is a fair one (no one gets a free ride). Lastly, and this issue is much larger than any recent deals in the press, we have no problem with large object content providers peering with last mile ISPs (there is plenty of other business out there). The problem we see is that some may be doing so not because they want to, but because they feel as though they have no other way to avoid Internet congestion some ISPs are perpetuating through the game of chicken. That’s not a level playing field.

  12. To Level 3 and Mr. Mooney:

    As someone who is passionate about the Internet (there are a few of us!), thank you so much for your willingness to speak publicly about these negotiations.

    Interconnection negotiations are plainly a sore spot for the commercial Internet, and while there may never be a magical solution, silence on these matters only hurts the public, both as customers and as a society.

    Clearly you recognize that being transparent on these matters (as well as sharing information on your efforts!) does not only benefit the public good and generate goodwill, but does not inhibit negotiations as well.

    It has been the nature of these arrangements that they take place in back rooms, but that does not always need to be the case for the future, and for adaptation to happen requires advocacy.

    Please keep up your good works.

  13. Mr Mooney; this has been quite insightful and I plan on sharing this with my co-workers. I was wondering on what your thoughts on community-based or publicly owned ISPs?

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  15. All I could do was laugh when you posed your question.

    Do you assume, “Jeez, lots of people must be using the Internet right now”?

    You might be wrong.

    The idea that there are bit-torrent users on every street, in every neighborhood, in every city, in every county, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is insane and crazy. Yet that is one of the myths put forth to justify the throttling, limiting, restricting of bandwidth that 100% of Cable providers do.

    Get symmetrical Fiber To The Home (FTTH) if you can get it, most is NOT symmetrical. If that second number is not the same as the first number, (ie. 20Mb/4Mb instead of 10Mb/10Mb) than your service will be throttled in some way for bad reasons.

    I hypothesis that video would never stop, skip, sputter and wait to spool if the upstream bandwidth (second number) was not throttled to below 300Kbps upstream. In my experience, the upstream bandwidth is used to control any bandwidth that streams, ie. video. Force the cable providers to never throttle to below the FCC definition of ‘broadband’, 768Kbps, upstream and those delays will disappear.

    The ‘peering agreements’ you refer to without naming in your post are going to be harmed based on the courts decision against net neutrality and that is unfortunate.

    I only have two viable solutions, both require you to avoid cable internet providers. First get symmetrical FTTH, second get DSL from a non-cable owned provider.

    With symmetrical FTTH, there is no business reason to limit, throttle, restrict bandwidth. Thus the scarcity myth that forces this on consumers is thwarted.

    DSL is a direct link from the switching station, again their is no honest reason for that link to be throttled by the provider. DSL, at lower bandwidths, is still superior to throttled cable internet. It also costs half as much or less per month. An Added benefit.

    Most consumers would be blown away by 1Mb/1Mb FTTH. 1Mb of bandwidth upstream and those videos will not skip, stop or stutter unless a cable provider in between is restricting your bandwidth.

    To avoid their restricted pipes, use a combination of VPN + encryption + DNS (non Cable provider of course) + dd-WRT enabled device and you should be okay.

    Good luck, we will all need it! At least until forced regulation fixes it as it did in 2000, in Japan, when NTT was forced to resell their monopoly fiber to 3rd parties at very reduced rates. While the Japanese consumers initially got 100Mb/100Mb symmetrical FTTH for $55 per month, by 2005, they could get 1Gb/1GB for less than $50 per month. None of this would have happened had the Japanese politicians not put their citizens first and de-regulated NTT.

    I am not holding my breath either, better to move to one of the less than 30 FTTH communities (http://is.gd/HCi80q) and never use cable providers ever again.

  16. It’s frustrating that the content providers like Netflix are forced to pick up the tab to get the content out, often because the consumers are simply not well informed enough to demand fair traffic carrying. When I try to explain these issues to non-tech savvy friends and family, their eyes quickly glaze over because they either don’t want to take the time to understand or listen, or they dismiss it as “internet problems” far beyond their reach to control.

    How can we mobilize as average citizens? Letters to congressmen? Petitions? How can we (I) help?

    • Hey Jack. When I’ve been to Washington recently and met with some of our Congressional leaders, I’ve tried to mention net neutrality, bottleneck (and therefore anticompetitive) access networks, congested Internet interconnection points, and the impact that congestion can have on the their constituents. I did so just 2 weeks ago with Congresswoman Doris Matsui (who represents part of Sacramento, California), noting our congested interconnection links in San Jose, through which we deliver traffic bound for Sacramento. I also did so with the legislative assistant to Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, and we are scheduled to meet tomorrow with the offices of Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both of Minnesota. That’s our way of saying that yes, we are talking to both the FCC (as noted in the blog) and Congress about the importance of adequate interconnection to consumers in the net neutrality debate. We hope others do the same.

  17. Somebody has to pay for the network upgrades. As it is the content providers who are forcing this bandwidth increase to the last mile providers, why shouldn’t they shoulder some of the cost?

    • Rogert, thanks for the questions. First, we don’t really understand the view that content providers are forcing bandwidth increases. Content providers don’t randomly “spam” people with the content they create. They create content, but it is the American consumer—the ISP’s customers—who ask that it be sent to them. So if we want to name a “cost causer”, which we think is unnecessary, it is the ISP that sold Internet access to its subscribers who then expect that that they should be able to use it to download all of the content available on the Internet– take online courses, watch movies, etc. But we really don’t feel like blaming anyone, since the huge success of the Internet benefits everyone. The truth is that to add capacity to a congested interconnection point, both the ISP and the interconnecting provider need to spend money in roughly equal amounts to add capacity on their respective sides of that interconnection location. We are, and have always been, willing to pay to increase our network size, but the ISPs need to do the same on their end since they are getting paid by their subscribes to do it.

    • 2013 income before taxes from the respective company’s annual reports
      Netflix – $171 million
      Level 3 – $1.6 billion
      Time Warner – $3 billion
      Comcast – $11 billion

      You tell me, who should be paying to upgrade the last mile connections? The streaming content provider who you pay for content, the intermediary internet backbone provider who you never interact with, or the ISP you pay for an internet connection and is making the largest profits in this system and is taking government subsidies to boot?

      Also keep in mind that Netflix is willing to peer with ISPs FOR FREE and to provide local caching servers FOR FREE, virtually eliminating data costs that would be paid to a tier 1 backbone provider.

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  25. Michael…

    I’m not sure I fully understand.

    As I understand it, you’re saying that smaller ISPs, that do not upgrade their network, are looking to put, well, let’s call it extortion – by slowing down their networks unless they get a piece of the action from their uplink providers (and possibly the content providers themselves).

    And I understand that first in their sights is NetFlix.

    First, understand that I TOTALLY support your efforts to stop this. I think allowing this to go forward will be a VERY bad thing.

    But let’s assume the FCC is okay with it.

    What prevent NetFlix from slowing their network for a particular ISP? In effect, extorting that ISP to cough up cash or NetFlix won’t work for them.

    It sounds like not much. Except that NetFlix doesn’t have much cash and doesn’t want to go into the ISP – last mile market.

    But NetFlix isn’t the only player in town. Another company is larger….has a TON of cash….and could easily go into the ISP – last mile market.

    Imagine if Google decided that it wanted Cox’s New York market. All google emails (in that market) are slowed by factor of a 1000. All youtube videos frankly refuse to load. Hell, all double-click ads (and therefore nearly every page on the internet) refuse to load.

    And at the same time, Google starts offering internet service in New York.

    Do you think customer’s would switch to Google’s ISP? Would you switch?

  26. I have long been an advocate for net neutrality and frankly certain aspects of my reasoning will generate major hate from a number of major ISP’s.
    Part of the issue is content use, and bandwidth contracts frankly I have worked for a couple ISP’s and also for a backbone company the backbone company I worked for was a small player their biggest “pipes” at the time I worked for them were a couple oc12- 48’s I think with 1 trunk headed down to the new Orleans area, and another couple that went from the Portland Oregon area to Chicago ish and some circuits up and down the west coast.

    the problem as I see it comes in several parts and at several levels:
    first end users having “balanced” or synchronous up/down connections is unnecessary in fact most users are better served by asynchronous circuits based on their actual usage. The average home user will typically use something in the 60-90% down and 10-40% up ratios that streaming video someone else mentioned as case in point? 1 hr of SD level video uses around 1 gb of storage or bandwidth on the download side and a few kb on the upload side to handle the whole stream (less download potentially with compression)

    where the issue comes in is when as was mentioned one provider has a monopoly, especially when they control “too much” of the market I would reference the “ma bell” and without naming names say that in my opinion some of the isp’s and cable providers are approaching or IMO past the point that I thing the government should step in and do a little regulating and targeted breakups. my thought is that when your choices in a area for broadband are cable, (single provider) or 1 phone carrier or 1 aircard, carrier or satellite and in some cases even all 4 (but only 1 of each) there is in my opinion not enough competition.

    another aspect is I always have believed (and observed) that many of the ISP’s really do monitor and filter packets based on what they are even if they can’t tell whats in them, there are numerous law suits where some carriers were accused of sending out stop packets for things like torrent data and the charges were sustained in courts.

    with all that said the biggest issue a lot of isp’s are guilty of and this applies to cable and dsl providers alike is over selling their available bandwidth, they ALL do it, in fact there are (or were ~10 years ago) accepted ratios based on how much bandwidth the average consumer uses as to what constituted an “acceptable over sell ratio” and I want to say it was in the neighborhood of 10:1 what that means is if you have a street or neighborhood, and it has 100 customers on it, and you had 200 mb/s capacity you could sell up to 2gb/s worth of services into that node. and most of the customers wouldn’t complain.

    shared bandwidth such as the cable providers typically have would have you provision a street for say 200mb/s down 50mb/s up, and you could sell up to 100 20mb/s down / 5mb/s up connections, and if you make sure and write the contract that it is UP to … with a guaranteed 200kb/s/50kb/s or even 2mbs/0.5mb/s you are covered as long as you properly configure the equipment (and don’t have an outage) The problem is that the newer more tech savy (lol) customers are in many cases actually USING their contracted bandwidth more often than they used to, and a lot of the isp’s do not want to acknowledge or update their sales vs provision ratios to work with the new realities. There are other issues involved but that has to deal with content filtering based on the content in question and I am not going to go there, as it gets very problematic in a hurry.

    to be honest in many ways I wish we could get some “neutral” not for profit entity to step in and start some massive “infrastructure repair and upgrade projects” all across north America and build out a “grid” that can actually handle more capacity than is actually needed. examples being run fiber to every home/neighborhood, because as long as you use good quality fiber (of the right type) the main difference between an oc1 and an oc 48 is the equipment the fiber is plugged into.

  27. Pingback: Netflix responds to net neutrality « Flexible Reality

  28. Michael, thank you very much for bringing these issues to light. Those of us in the industry have known for years that Comcast operates probably the world’s most congested and poorly engineered network, and they are able to get away with it because of their monopoly position. Peering aside, their network architecture is a joke, and they route traffic over some of the most scenic paths ever seen, and they’re being cowboys with your traffic by deploying bleeding edge untested technology like the Compass EOS router. How are they able to get away with it? Because they’re a monopoly, and if you don’t like it, it’s not like you can pack up and move to another broadband ISP…except slow DSL in some limited cases.

    All of that said, it would be nice to see Level 3 practice what it preaches with bit mile peering. Press releases aside, those of us in the industry know that your policy to peering is still “no”, unless you’re in the club of already established peers. Some more transparency on this, such a a public facing peering policy on your web site, would be appreciated. Can we expect to see this soon? Regards David

  29. First of all kudos on hitting the point that web app and mobile app internet builders are the content creators of the internet driving the customer to comcast or AT&T etc.

    Without us there would be no demand for the plumbing these guys provide at significant cost to our mutual customer.

    And while we builders always add servers or hard drive space, or ram, or pay for more bandwidth, these ISPs are not going to do the same to handle their share of costs to create this market?

    While some of us build apps for free or websites for free they always collect their dues. Let’s be clear it is no charity they provide.

    You all miss the obvious solution. In fact a disintermediation should telecom not honor their customer….

    Hello, Netflix?

    Let’s just say the telecom guys don’t want to piss off the open internet geeks…lest we will uber/Linux them.


  30. The net neutrality debate is normally seen as a consumer matters (and it is), but the Netflix/Comcast deal shows that net neutrality is becoming a matter of competition. With the broadband market becoming more and more concentrated, the termination segment (the last mile) becomes essential. In Europe this problem has been relatively addressed thanks to access regulation (ULL, bistream), which limit the abusive powers of incumbents. To make an example, if an European incumbent would like to force Netflix to the same “Comcast” deal, Netflix would have various alternative ISP to use. Then, the subscribers of the incumbent would complain with their ISP that they cannot get quality Netflix streaming, and they threat to migrate to other ISPs. This market scenario address such kind of problems. I think that US legislation should reconsider the decision to deregulate the access market.
    I commented the Netflix-Comcast deal here: http://radiobruxelleslibera.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/the-netflixcomcast-deal-nothing-to-do-with-net-neutrality-yet/

  31. Pingback: Netflix’s Reed Hastings calls out weak net neutrality rules, ‘reluctantly’ pays ISP tolls - teqarazzi

  32. Pingback: Netflix’s Reed Hastings calls out weak net neutrality rules, ‘reluctantly’ pays ISP tolls | 51Main

  33. Pingback: Net Neutrality - To Be or Not To Be? | OneWeb

  34. Pingback: Post Comcast/Netflix deal, speeds increase 65% | Alternative Media Distributors

  35. My isp has 2 milion internet subscribers, most of them had 50megabit/s connection down/up with the whole us/eu, now they deployed 1 Gigabit connection plans, at this time 1/3 already switched to the 1Gbit plan. Well if 13-14k users was downloading a file from level3 at the same time it will be enough to eat the whole damn network.

    Theres 2 -3 billion internet users in the whole world and level 3 provides bandwidth for about 8/10 isp’s there. You guys should increase that capacity too.

    • Level 3 regularly augments congested locations, but that is only effective if our peers will do the same. If they do not augment on their end, and several of the larger ones will not, our augments alone are ineffective, and the game of chicken continues.

  36. Pingback: Los proveedores de internet, ¿se quedan sin ancho de banda? | Pablo Alejandro Fain

  37. Addressing poor performance and unequal agreements from an ISP perspective can not only be done with regulatory effort, but also through providing consumers with the information to make choices. Ie allowing competition to operate.
    In New Zealand, monthly articles comparing the performance of ISPs has driven dramatic improvements using panel based measurement tools and timely, monthly reporting so ISPs can respond with improved services. http://Www.truenet.co.nz
    The FCC measures the same way in the states, but only publishes annually and then 18 months after the event, so ISPs can ignore the results as being out of date. A simple change to monthly reporting could solve this problem.

  38. Pingback: “Chicken” | A Game Played as a Child and by some ISPs with the Internet | netwatch

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  44. Pingback: Dissecting Net Neutrality | joemac.me

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  46. Pingback: Netflix’s Reed Hastings calls out weak net neutrality rules, ‘reluctantly’ pays ISP tolls | xvid entertainment news

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  52. Pingback: From Swiss to Swiss Cheese: What is Network Neutrality and why should we care | Knowledge Base

  53. I found this sentence a little confusing:
    “And while this game of chicken plays out, and it is playing out right now, many ISP networks remain too congested to handle all of the Internet traffic their subscribers paid them to deliver, and here is some of what can happen:”

    Are we to believe that the networks are capable of carrying all of the data and are artificially limiting flow, or that they are actually limiting flow by not upgrading their network infrastructure?? The quoted sentence seems to be ambiguous in this regard.

  54. Pingback: How the internet works, and why it’s impossible to know what makes your Netflix slow – Quartz

  55. The problem is actually the monopoly that certain ISPs have on geographic areas. These problems are caused by local governments that ‘own’ the rights of way and therefore get to choose which cable companies can operate in an area. The solution to this problem is not to have the federal government come in from on high and try to micromanage the internet, the solution is to get the local governments out of the way of new companies that want to bring infrastructure and competition to the ‘last mile’ market.

  56. Pingback: Why America’s Internet Is So Shitty and Slow | VoxBox

  57. Pingback: Why America’s Internet Is So Slow and Broken » Logistics Careerlink

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