(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
dispute, peering

cogent, sprint

Details Revealed Behind Cogent/Sprint Fight

from the breaking-the-internet dept

Back in October, we heard about yet another peering dispute concerning internet backbone connections, reminding us that these sorts of battles seem to happen like clockwork reminding everyone that the internet is basically held together with handshake agreements.

The details on the Cogent/Sprint fight quickly became muddy, as both sides spun great stories for the media, each blaming each other. Sprint claimed that it wasn't actually a peering dispute at all, as Cogent wasn't a "peer" since it had agreed to pay a fee to connect (typical peering arrangements involve no payments -- just two networks agreeing to connect). Cogent claimed that Sprint was going against an agreement, and the whole thing blew up in the media. Cogent played the media card first, blaming Sprint, and it worked: Sprint came out looking like the bad guy, and quickly reconnected the network.

Now, Forbes has put together a great detailed look at what actually happened. Apparently, Cogent had asked Sprint for a peering agreement many years ago, but Sprint refused -- fearing that Cogent would send a lot more traffic than Sprint, making it an unfair deal. After back and forth haggling, the two companies agreed to a trial, where Cogent would pay Sprint nearly half a million dollars to test out a connection. If Cogent did not send significantly more traffic, then the two would establish a peering relationship. And, Cogent claims, it lived up to its end of the bargain. The amount of traffic was about equal. Sprint, however, claimed that Cogent still didn't meet the terms of the agreement, but for a totally different reason: complaining that Cogent didn't send enough traffic. This seems pretty questionable, as the supposed fear was that Cogent would send too much. That's why Cogent claims Sprint never intended to set up a real peering arrangement in the first place.

The end result was a standoff, where Sprint just started billing Cogent, as per the terms of the contract if the test period was a failure. Cogent then ignored the bills, pointing out that the test wasn't a failure, and by the terms of the contract, the two had a peering arrangement where it owed no money. After arguing about it in court, Sprint went a step further and disconnected the links, which ended up backfiring. The whole thing is not yet resolved, but apparently the two sides are talking, and say they're intent on working out a reasonable deal. No matter what, as Forbes notes, it's an interesting look into the behind-the-scenes agreements that keep the internet running.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2008 @ 11:02pm

    Don't worry about a thing... The Obama/Pelosi/Reid Triad will be sure to nationalize the telcos to "benefit the under served".

    Perhaps there will be a new joint cabinet position - Czar of Nationalized HealthInernetCare :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Allen (profile), 4 Dec 2008 @ 2:08am

    A couple of points

    "This seems pretty questionable, as the supposed fear was that Cogent would send too much. "

    Settlement free peering agreements are based upon the concept of equality. This is rather subjective. About all people can agree on is that if the traffic sent and received between two networks is roughly equal then each party must be receiving roughly equal value.

    You might think that the ideal situation is when a content provider peers with a broadband provider. The broadband provider needs content and the content provider needs an audience, but the debate seems to descend into a discussion over whether the ad revenue generated by the content provider is worth more than the subscription revenue generated by the broadband provider. This is why Google are so keen on network neutrality.

    "claimed that Cogent still didn't meet the terms of the agreement, but for a totally different reason: complaining that Cogent didn't send enough traffic"

    Once again this is about defining equality. The theory goes that if you cant generate some minimum volume of traffic then you must have a smaller customer base and therefore you get greater value from peering with the network with the larger customer base. It's a rather fuzzy concept of equality I think sometimes rather akin to comparing penis size (yes the discussions can be that juvenile). But while setting the threshold is subjective as hell once the threshold is set at least taking the criteria is objective.

    Sprint were almost certainly within the letter of the contract. Too bad they forgot that blocking Cogent's access to Sprints customers is the same a blocking Sprint's customers access to Cogents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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