Companies Come Out Of The Woodwork To Claim Comcast Is Violating Net Neutrality... But Exaggerations Abound

from the but-are-they? dept

Network neutrality gets thrown around all too often, quite frequently in misleading ways. As the NBC/Comcast merger gets closer, there were two separate claims that Comcast is violating net neutrality on Monday, probably in an effort to derail the merger or at least include greater restrictions. Of course, it's not entirely clear if either is really a "net neutrality" issue. The first is the more dubious. Cable modem maker Zoom complains that Comcast has jacked up "device testing" costs, creating additional hurdles for Zoom's modems to be used by Comcast customers. I'm reading through the details, and I'm struggling to see how this is, in any way, a "neutrality" issue. It just seems like a stretch by people who are generally against the merger. This has nothing to do with content discrimination and seems more like a standard business relationship complaint.

The other complaint is at least a bit more interesting -- but details are still lacking. Level 3 claims that Comast has told it that it will need to pay up to let Comcast subscribers access online movies offered by Level 3. I'm not familiar with Level 3's online movie offerings -- so if anyone has details, please let us know. Based on Level 3's statements alone (which are, obviously, one-sided), this certainly does sound like the original dream scenario of the telcos to charge content owners to reach customers -- effectively double charging everyone by pretending that their internet connections only reach halfway into the cloud, but to reach any other site, those sites should have to pay up too.

If this is true, and the details do line up, it's rather stunning (and incredibly braindead) that Comcast would make such a demand right now, just as the merger is close to approval. You would think that someone in management would recognize the sort of backlash such a demand would bring. Of course, again, I'm wondering if there are more details here. I wasn't aware of an online movie offering from Level 3, and I'm wondering if Level 3 was actually trying to do something more involved rather than just letting users access online content through existing connections. I'm sure the details will come out soon enough...

Update: And out come the details suggesting that Level 3 is exaggerating. Level 3, as suspected, does not offer a consumer online video offering, but is simply powering Netflix's video offering, and the discussion with Comcast was a standard peering discussion, which happens all the time when internet infrastructure players realize that one of their peers is delivering more traffic than it's taking. In other words, this looks like yet another case of claiming "net neutrality" when there's no actual net neutrality issue...


Reader Comments (rss)

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Nov 29th, 2010 @ 7:01pm

    Level 3, as suspected, does not offer a consumer online video offering, but is simply powering Netflix's video offering, and the discussion with Comcast was a standard peering discussion...

    It's double-dipping (or at least an attempt to.)

    Comcast's customers are requesting data, Level 3/Netflix are happy to oblige. Comcast wants to set themselves up as a middleman and collect fees from both sides.

    Asymmetric peering agreements are usually the result of party B carrying traffic b/t parties A and C. This seems pretty clear. Comcast should get its shit together and lay more cable and/or charge its customers more.

    It's like they *want* net neutrality legislation. Only I know they don't.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2010 @ 7:21pm

      Re:

      They don't need more money, they make far more than what it costs to run their networks and it keeps getting cheaper. What they should be doing (and all other ISPs for that matter) is actually provide us with a network that is actually competitive with the rest of the highly wired world. We, Americans, pay more money for less speed than most of the other developed nations. It's not just a matter of landmass either.

      They could provide us with a fast network across the country, but that would make their legacy services (phone and cable TV) obsolete and they know it. They make a killing selling those services because they're dirt cheap to maintain and they rake in gobs of cash from both sides. The phone companies are the same. They continue to use the obsolete copper wire networks to deliver phone service knowing full well that people with even a 5 Mbps connection can use VoIP applications to talk to people for free. We don't need cable or the antiquated phone services anymore, but they keep their internet offerings anemic in order to keep us dependent on them.

       

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    john, Nov 29th, 2010 @ 7:56pm

    Mike, net neutrality has always included "the right to attach." The formulations always say that customers can use "the device or application" of their choice on their connection. This is usually interpreted to mean e.g. VoIP phones but I see no principled reason why Comcast would allow some DOCSIS modems and not others. Comcast is simply exploiting its procedures to eliminate consumer's traditional right to use third-party cable modems by ensuring those modems can't reach the market. It's like they went around deleting copies of Skype instead of just blocking it.

    There's no need for its testing procedures in any event, since the FCC, UL, and CableLabs all conduct thorough tests for compatibility and safety.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2010 @ 8:30pm

      Re:

      The testing seems rather ridiculous. The only way I could see comcast requiring these test is if they had a contract to sell them with the service. If these are just modems people can buy for use with any other DOCSIS provider I don't see how they can specify things such as size and weight requirements for example.

      http://cable.tmcnet.com/news/2010/11/29/5163571.htm

       

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    john, Nov 29th, 2010 @ 7:58pm

    And while the Level 3 dispute is murky, wouldn't you expect a backbone to deliver more traffic to a last-mile than it takes back? Most Internet uses download far far more than they upload.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2010 @ 10:55pm

    I don't get it, why is the people and government not making IPX all over the place.

    People can build and pay for their own IPX and the government would only need to link those for them, then bye bye Comcast.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2010 @ 11:08pm

     

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    mjb5406 (profile), Nov 30th, 2010 @ 1:59am

    Is that the real reason?

    Even more of a basic issue: Is Comcast seeing Netflix's streaming service as a threat to its own cable service (with its OnDemand services), and sees this as an opportunity to force higher costs on the content provider and, ultimately, the consumer in an attempt to stifle the "cord cutters"? Will their next step be to lower the monthly cap (now set at 250GB) and stop metering usage to Comcast-controlled sites (like xfinity.com) so people can stream from Comcast but hit the cap when streaming from other sites (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, etc.)? Comcast is not known for its consumer-friendly attitude when it comes to its profits... they have the sweetness-and-nice commercials but if anything threatens their subscriber numbers, or the services their subscribers pay to use, the fangs are bared.

     

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    greenbird (profile), Nov 30th, 2010 @ 8:33am

    Could cross into net neutrality

    Where this could cross over to a net neutrality issue is if Comcast is threatening to disallow exclusively Netflix traffic in it's negotiations on a commercial peering agreement. If that's the case it's headed down that slippery slope of charging for specific traffic. If Comcast can establish that principal it makes it much easier to charge backbone providers for specific traffic that may compete with Comcast's other business offerings. The backbone operators would be forced to pass those additional costs on to the traffic originators. Without a lot more details of the negotiations and agreements it's difficult to say one way or the other if this is a step onto that slippery slope but it definitely has that potential.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2010 @ 8:39am

    Net neutrality actually sides with Comcast

    According to the net neutrality, Comcast has to treat all the traffic the same. So regardless of whether it's video data or spam (which according to various sources make up a combined 180% of all internet traffic), Comcast should treat it the same. Now, if a spam server were trying to upload huge amounts of spam, would anyone argue that Comcast should have to transmit that data at all, let alone for free?

    This is exactly why net neutrality is a bad idea. As Mike has said many times, we need better competition, not neutrality. That's the problem with Neutrals. You never know where you stand. Damn them and their neutrality.

     

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      Grey Ferret, Nov 30th, 2010 @ 12:45pm

      Re: Net neutrality actually sides with Comcast

      180% of all internet traffic? Really? I mean, when including spam, one might think you can go over 100%, but still. I'm not sure I'm buying that number.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2010 @ 1:10pm

        Re: Re: Net neutrality actually sides with Comcast

        Well, when one source says spam is 90% of all internet traffic and another says youtube is 90% of all internet traffic that adds up to 180% of all internet traffic. Granted I just made those numbers up but I've certainly seen claims of both where if you added them together you'd get more than 100%.

         

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    Grey Ferret, Nov 30th, 2010 @ 1:49pm

    Yes, of course, silly me. I forgot that when you have two conflicting sets of data, you're supposed to just simply add them together.

    Sounds like the same math Comcast is using to charge twice for the same service.

     

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      Shane, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 9:36am

      Re:

      Grey Ferret - adding them up makes the absurdity of their exaggerated or flat out made-up data sets come to light. While some people realize that a lot of this type of data is bad, others will take any numbers handed to them as gospel... although a lot of them can't be shown that the data is bad even though it creates numerical impossibilities.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2010 @ 12:59pm

    I thought peering issues usually involved when data was transmitted across a network which wasn't it's ultimate destination? Since it's Comcast users themselves who are requesting the Netflix video data then it seems more like Comcast is requiring a toll to access its users.

    Usually TechDirt is pretty good but I think they missed the core issue here.

     

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