Net Neutrality Friday

This week we had our first Complaint under the Net Neutrality Rules that went into effect recently. So, who is it that is blocking traffic? Well it is Time-Warner Cable (TWC)!

Commercial Network Services (CNS) filed the complaint this week via the FCC. CNS is a relatively small web hoster, application provider and streaming company. They have asked TWC to peer with them at one of three specific locations and to do so for free. TWC has declined to do so, but has offered either a transit deal or to peer at a fourth location. CNS thinks this 4th location is too congested and is concerned about the quality of their traffic after going through that peering point. So, CNS is throttling their bandwidth and asking for paid prioritization. These are both violations of the new Net Neutrality rules.

So, what happens next should be an investigation. However, I am not sure as it will get that far as the FCC explicitly excluded rules around peering as part of the current order. The FCC said that it did not have enough information about the practices and issues to be able to create good rules for peering. Given this complaint’s nature, it may be dismissed out of hand. You may have a valid complaint, but if the rules specifically don’t cover what you are complaining about then they don’t cover them.

Let’s take a step further and say there was some sort of rules covering peering. Is the refusal of the CNS request by TWC likely to be a violation? It is a fascinating question because I can argue both sides. So, let’s start with the side that says there is a violation. The question will be what constitutes congestion and how will it be dealt with. Part of the problem here is that the Internet is oversubscribed. If all the endpoints went active at the same time and tried to use their maximum bandwidth there would not be enough bandwidth to satisfy the request. How can you determine if a peering point is being oversubscribed on purpose to set rules in place? There will need to be a lot of information collected to be sure. I want you to look back at my columns that talk about SDN. This technology could make a real problem here. Some points might only be congested because some customer requested temporary bandwidth. How is that going to be handled under Net Neutrality rules? I hope I never have to figure that out!

On the no violation side, it does seem like a small vendor is trying to dictate the terms by which a large vendor deploys its capital. In particular, the small vendor is trying to set up the business conditions that the larger company has to operate. CNS is trying to tell TWC where to build its network and how much it can charge to do so. That seems wrong to me at some level. The question would be how does this get resolved if they don’t share an uncongested peering point? Who has to spend the money? Would it be easier to upgrade one of the existing points? What is the schedule/plan/cost to do so? Who pays for what? Again, I am glad I don’t have to make the rules here.

In my opinion, CNS is trying to stretch the rules to make its point and get a little notoriety. I am fine with that, but if lots of companies make the large ISPs jump through hoops like this it is only going to create cost passed along to the consumer. I don’t have all the answers on this, but if nothing new happens until the next post I will talk about this next time.

Next week is a National Holiday (sort of) so there will be no post on Net Neutrality until 7/10/15. Have a great weekend and a great 4th of July!
Jim Sackman
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