Indications are that the dispute over the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) new Net neutrality rules might just be settled in court. Cogent Communications, which controls parts of the Internet backbone, is preparing to file complaints with the FCC, charging Internet service providers Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink with improperly degrading Internet traffic.
Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer told the National Journal that if those companies continue to refuse to provide their customers "with access to the entire Internet on an unfettered basis . . . we would have no choice but to file a complaint with the FCC under the Open Internet Order."
Internet backbone provider Level 3 Communications said in an e-mail statement that it is also currently evaluating its options.
While the Net neutrality rules mandate that Internet service providers should not block or degrade traffic once it's on their networks, the complaints from Cogent and Level 3 would focus on how so-called last mile providers load traffic onto their networks. However, the dispute might not interest consumers initially, Hunter Newby, CEO of New York-based collocation and interconnection provider Allied Fiber, told us.
"People just want better, faster, cheaper," he said. "The FCC is casting a vision of protecting people's rights. This comes in the form of making a rule that keeps Internet access providers from blocking, or degrading any content on their network."
Backbone providers transport data from Web sites to the Internet service providers, which then deliver the Internet content to people's homes. Most network operators exchange traffic without charging any fees under the idea that both benefit by freely exchanging traffic back and forth.
The expansion of online video streaming services such as Netflix has upset the equation. Netflix alone now accounts for more than one-third of all U.S. Internet traffic during peak hours.
Clock Starts Ticking Monday
The companies will be able to file their complaints once the rules go into effect, which happens 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register. The rules are set to be formally published on Monday.
The backbone providers have been trying to push huge amounts of traffic through connections that were intended for much smaller exchanges. In many cases, that congestion resulted in grainy and choppy videos for customers. The Internet service providers have been demanding payments to build better connections for the traffic.
"The semantics of when content actually reaches an access provider's network is where the entire Open Internet Rule falls apart," said Newby. "If the access providers can claim that some kind of content did not yet reach their access network, they will be able to block and degrade it without penalty."