ITIF: Peering Disputes Are Growing Pains

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, whose honorary co-chairs include Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) have advised the committee that interconnection (peering) disputes between Netflix and various ISP (and Comcast and Level 3 back in 2010), are essentially growing pains rather than problems that need regulatory fixes.

"Both the Level 3 and Netflix disputes involved unprecedented levels of data being sent over links designed for an earlier era," said ITIF President Robert Atkinson and telecom analyst Douglas Brake in comments to the committee in response to an interconnection white paper. "The rise of streaming high-definition video has required profound changes in how traffic flows through the Internet – these changes would have been much more difficult to achieve under a rigid regulatory regime."

Netflix has complained that it was essentially forced into the paid peering deals and that the FCC should consider interconnection a network neutrality issue. IPS say the deals are commonplace, most still involve no payments, and when they do it is because the relationship is too one-sided. The term "peering" comes from the fact that most traffic exchangers were peers in the sense of exchanging about the same amount of traffic.

"There is little concern that access networks will be able to leverage their last-mile status to extract anti-competitive rents from interconnection arrangements because of simply how many paths there are into the network," said ITIF in its comments.

That does not mean there is no reason to be concerned about web users' content getting buffered and slowed. "This is not to say that interconnection disputes are non-existent or without problems," says ITIF. "There is ample evidence that the packet-loss from congested interconnection ports affected users’ streaming."

But it also says that the FCC is taking the right approach by seeking info from ISPs about their interconnection deals. "The Chairman has made clear that the Commission 'is collecting information, not regulating,'" said ITIF, which suggests that is the way it ought to be.

"[T]he Commission has long recognized a general desire to avoid regulating IP interconnection," said ITIF. "There is also little reason to force any sort of strong transparency requirements in this space. These agreements are commercially negotiated, so automatically making them public would undermine efficient negotiations and potentially limit innovation in new types of arrangements."

The committee is teeing up various issues for comment as it prepares to launch a Telecom Act rewrite next year.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.