Telecom network operator Level 3 says a new fee that cable operator Comcast is seeking from it to "transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast's customers who request such content" essentially "threatens the open Internet."
Level 3 says it's lobbying regulators and policy makers to take action to "ensure that a fair, open and innovative Internet does not become a closed network controlled by a few institutions with dominant market power," able to discriminate between content.
Comcast, meanwhile, the nation's largest cable operator as well as the largest Internet provider with 17 million customers, says the brouhaha with Level 3, whose largest customer is Netflix, is a "simple commercial dispute."
The issue comes to light less than a month before the FCC is expected to address potential net neutrality regulations in its Dec. 21 meeting. While no action is certain, the FCC could include rules to prevent operators like Comcast, for example, from slowing down or blocking content from providers--particularly those who aren't business partners or in some other sort of favored relationship with a big-pipe carrier or a cable operator.
This battle, which started Nov. 19, just a week after Level 3 announced a new partnership with Netflix, could mean Comcast customers would lose access to Netflix and other web content unless Level 3 continues to pay the recurring fee, which it now is doing under protest, Level 3 said, after Comcast said the fee--and access to its customers--was a "take it or leave it" situation, Level 3 Chief Legal Officer Thomas Stortz said.
"By taking this action, Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content which competes with its own cable TV and Xfinity delivered content," Stortz said. "This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access markets as the nation's largest cable provider."
But Comcast says Level 3 is simply looking for a better deal than its competitors have.
"Level 3 has misportrayed the commercial negotiations between it and Comcast," Comcast Senior Vice President for External Affairs and Public Policy Counsel Joe Waz said. "This has nothing to do with Level 3's desire to distribute different types of network traffic ... Level 3 is trying to undercut its CDN competitors by claiming it's entitled to be treated differently and trying to force Comcast to give Level 3 unlimited and highly imbalanced traffic and shift all the cost onto Comcast and its customers."
Waz said Level 3 want to "pressure Comcast into accepting more than a twofold increase in the amount of traffic Level 3 delivers onto Comcast's network--for free."
Netflix has declined to comment on the dispute.
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