Peering into the Pipes

Cecilia Kang, The Washington Post: Level 3 Communications calls Comcast fees for Netflix feeds unfair: “An online networking company that carries video feeds for Netflix has accused Comcast of demanding unfair fees to provide that video to home subscribers, raising questions about the cable giant’s power to control consumers’ access to the Internet.”
Brian Stelter, New York Times, Media Decoder: Netflix Partner Says Comcast Fee ‘Threatens’ Open Internet: “Those issues cut to the heart of Comcast%u2019s imminent acquisition of NBC Universal, which is in the final stages of review by the F.C.C. and the Justice Department. The F.C.C. is considering attaching a condition to the merger that would aim to keep Comcast%u2019s Internet network open to competitors, according to public filings this month.”
Jessica E. Vascellaro, Wall Street Journal, Internet Giants Spar Over Fees: “The dispute fans the flames of the so-called net neutrality debate over how to handle Internet traffic. Federal regulators, who have yet to adopt rules that require Internet service providers to treat similar types of traffic equally, are set to decide this week whether to vote soon on proposed new guidelines. Consumers are caught in the middle. Comcast argued that Level 3 wants to pass the costs to Comcast and its customers. If Level 3 bears the costs, they will eventually fall to users of services like Netflix, according to a person familiar with Level 3’s thinking.”
Without knowing the specific details of the peering agreements between Comcast and Level 3, it’s difficult to say whether this is simply a business dispute over who pays for more bandwidth between Comcast and Level 3 or if it is in fact about charging a competitor more money to send video streaming service into Comcast’s network.
If this is about blocking or impeding Comcast subscribers’ access to the Netflix streaming service, while making it easy to access Comcast’s or NBC’s competitive services for broadband, that’s a prime example of why, in the absence of a truly competitive broadband internet access market, network neutrality regulations are important. If a customer who lives in Comcast’s service area wants to get broadband and also subscribe to Netflix, they may not have any other choice but to use Comcast’s internet service for that access.
Susan Crawford, Bad Timing: Comcast, Netflix, NN, Cable Modems, and NBCU: “The takeaway from today:  No market forces are constraining Comcast – or any of the other major cable distributors, none of which compete with each other.  How will consumers and innovation be protected from their machinations?  The FCC is currently facing two defining moments in US telecommunications policy, and it’s unclear what the Commission is going to do in either case.  Will the FCC act to relabel high-speed Internet transmission services, reversing the radical Bush-era deregulatory turn? Will the FCC block the Comcast/NBCU merger?  Can we expect that anything will happen (at all) to ensure that local monopoly control over communications transport isn’t leveraged into adjacent markets for devices and content?”
Kyle VanHemert, Gizmodo, Comcast Is Bullying Netflix Partners Into Paying a Toll to Deliver Streaming Video: “This is presumably the first volley in what will be a long battle between companies like Netflix and broadband providers, nearly all of whom have their own video on demand services to peddle. And this type of thing is precisely the reason that net neutrality—ensuring that internet providers don’t discriminate in how they deliver their content—has been and will continue to be such a big deal going forward. When service providers strong arm comparatively little guys like Netflix (and the partners upon whom Netflix relies, like Level 3) into paying higher fees, that turbulence eventually shakes down to the customer, either in the form of higher prices or interrupted service.”