According to networking company Level 3 Communications, Comcast just couldn't wait for its NBC deal to go through before getting all jerky with the access to online video, telling Level 3 on November 19th that it would need to pay a fee to deliver video to Comcast customers. Level 3 delivers videos from many companies over its networks, but the timing is particularly notable since on November 11th it signed up bandwidth-chewing Netflix as a major customer. While this sounds like exactly the kind of anti-net neutrality nonsense that makes us want to crank some OK Go, Comcast has responded saying it's doing no such thing, and it's actually Level 3 seeking a competitive advantage by suddenly sending far more information onto Comcast's network than it accepts. The cable company goes on to claim this situation is no different than its existing deals with Level 3's competitors, and that as long as traffic remains in balance it is willing to allow access settlement free, but if they want to push their growth (read: Netflix) onto Comcast's pipes, they'll have to pay up. We'll wait and see if this is all just a simple negotiating ploy or a true strike in the battle over net neutrality, but you may still want to get a refresher course on exactly what net neutrality is all about from our friend Tim Wu just in case.


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Level 3 Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: LVLT) today issued the following statement, which can be attributed to Thomas Stortz, Chief Legal Officer of Level 3:

"On November 19, 2010, Comcast informed Level 3 that, for the first time, it will demand a recurring fee from Level 3 to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast's customers who request such content. 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. 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.

"On November 22, after being informed by Comcast that its demand for payment was 'take it or leave it,' Level 3 agreed to the terms, under protest, in order to ensure customers did not experience any disruptions.

"Level 3 operates one of several broadband backbone networks, which are part of the Internet and which independent providers of online content use to transmit movies, sports, games and other entertainment to consumers. When a Comcast customer requests such content, for example an online movie or game, Level 3 transmits the content to Comcast for delivery to consumers.

"Level 3 believes Comcast's current position violates the spirit and letter of the FCC's proposed Internet Policy principles and other regulations and statutes, as well as Comcast's previous public statements about favoring an open Internet.

"While the network neutrality debate in Washington has focused on what actions a broadband access provider might take to filter, prioritize or manage content requested by its subscribers, Comcast's decision goes well beyond this. With this action, Comcast is preventing competing content from ever being delivered to Comcast's subscribers at all, unless Comcast's unilaterally-determined toll is paid – even though Comcast's subscribers requested the content. With this action, Comcast demonstrates the risk of a 'closed' Internet, where a retail broadband Internet access provider decides whether and how their subscribers interact with content.

"It is our hope that Comcast's senior management, for whom we have great respect, will closely consider their position on this issue and adopt an approach that will better serve Comcast and Comcast's customers.

"While Comcast's position is regrettable, Level 3 remains open and willing to work through these issues with Comcast. However, Level 3 does not seek any 'special deals' or arrangements not generally available to other Internet backbone companies.

"Given Comcast's currently stated position, we are approaching regulators and policy makers and asking them to take quick 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 that have the means, motive and opportunity to economically discriminate between favored and disfavored content."


About Level 3 Communications
Level 3 Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: LVLT) is a leading international provider of fiber-based communications services. Enterprise, content, wholesale and government customers rely on Level 3 to deliver services with an industry-leading combination of scalability and value over an end-to-end fiber network. Level 3 offers a portfolio of metro and long-haul services, including transport, data, Internet, content delivery and voice. For more information, visit www.level3.com.

© Level 3 Communications, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Level 3, Vyvx, "From Creation to Consumption," Level 3 Communications and the Level 3 Communications Logo are either registered service marks or service marks of Level 3 Communications, LLC and/or one of its Affiliates in the United States and/or other countries. Level 3 services are provided by wholly owned subsidiaries of Level 3 Communications, Inc. Any other service names, product names, company names or logos included herein are the trademarks or service marks of their respective owners.




Comcast Comments on Level 3
Posted by Joe Waz, SVP, External Affairs and Public Policy Counsel, in Public Policy

Level 3 has inaccurately portrayed the commercial negotiations between it and Comcast. These discussions have nothing to do with Level 3's desire to distribute different types of network traffic.

Comcast has long established and mutually acceptable commercial arrangements with Level 3's Content Delivery Network (CDN) competitors in delivering the same types of traffic to our customers. Comcast offered Level 3 the same terms it offers to Level 3's CDN competitors for the same traffic. But Level 3 is trying to gain an unfair business advantage over 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.

To quantify this, what Level 3 wants is to pressure Comcast into accepting more than a twofold increase in the amount of traffic Level 3 delivers onto Comcast's network -- for free. In other words, Level 3 wants to compete with other CDNs, but pass all the costs of that business onto Comcast and Comcast's customers, instead of Level 3 and its customers.

Level 3's position is simply duplicitous. When another network provider tried to pass traffic onto Level 3 this way, Level 3 said this is not the way settlement-free peering works in the Internet world. When traffic is way out of balance, Level 3 said, it will insist on a commercially negotiated solution.

Now, Level 3 proposes to send traffic to Comcast at a 5:1 ratio over what Comcast sends to Level 3, so Comcast is proposing the same type of commercial solution endorsed by Level 3. Comcast is meeting with Level 3 later this week for that purpose. We are happy to maintain a balanced, no-cost traffic exchange with Level 3. However, when one provider exploits this type of relationship by pushing the burden of massive traffic growth onto the other provider and its customers, we believe this is not fair. To use Level 3's own words:

"To be lasting, business relationships should be mutually beneficial. In cases where the benefit we receive is in line with the benefit we deliver, we will exchange traffic on a settlement-free basis. Contrary to [other ISPs] public statements, reasonable, balanced, and mutually beneficial agreements for the exchange of traffic do not represent a threat to the Internet. They don't represent a threat to anyone other than those trying to get a free ride on someone else's network."