Anyone who cares about network
neutrality should be closely watching the
dispute between Comcast and Level 3 Communications.
As Todd Spangler points out this week (see
“Level 3 May Test ‘Open Net’ Rules,”), the dispute has vast implications for all
Internet network providers and content
If Level 3 convinces the Federal Communications
Commission and Justice Department
regulators that Comcast shouldn’t levy fees
on networks that pass on a disproportionate
amount of data, it changes the business model
of traffic interchange on the Internet.
In filings with the FCC, Comcast makes a very a persuasive
case that the Level 3 case is a simple business dispute
resulting from a “peering” arrangement. Moreover, it says
it’s only fair that Level 3 should pay to send more traffic
(double the normal amount) on its network.
Comcast noted in FCC filings that many companies
“sought to use this particular transaction-review process
to advantage themselves in business dealings,”
and Level 3 is no different. But the questions
raised by Level 3 warrant closer scrutiny, not
as they relate to the NBCU deal, but to determine
how precisely such future cases will be
In a similar case in a different medium,
another group, Free Press, is asking the
FCC to investigate mobile Internet provider
MetroPCS’s new usage-based pricing plan
on grounds it may violate new rules (which
aren’t in effect yet) prohibiting the blocking of
These cases are only the first. Because the
FCC has proposed enforcing its new regime of
Internet rules on a “case-by-case basis,” and is calling on
all websites to report any net-neutrality transgressions,
broadband providers can expect a healthy rate of complaints
each time a price dispute comes up.
At the heart of each of these cases is a pertinent question
that the FCC will have a devil of a time answering:
What’s a fair price?