Comcast and one of Netflix’s bandwidth providers, Level 3, are in a spat. Level 3 accuses Comcast of adding a charge to carry Netflix traffic on their network. Comcast says, with some justification, that the Level 3 arrangement is in line with its other peering agreements.
What bothers me about this disagreement is that it’s similar to the way that cable systems and TV networks negotiate. The recent Fox/Cablevision spat, where Cablevision dropped Fox programming for a month that included the first two of games of the World Series, is just one example of how cable and content monoliths are more than willing to screw their customers as part of the negotiation process.
It’s a prime sign of an poorly-regulated oligopoly when a cable company can drop key programming for a month without being fined. Customers who purchased Cablevision service with the reasonable expectation that they’d be able to watch Fox can’t just switch providers, since many locations are only served by cable, and satellite services require multi-year commitments. Similarly, Comcast customers have a reasonable expectation that they can watch Netflix without worrying whether Comcast will come to a deal with Netflix’s ISP.
I’m looking forward to the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which are scheduled to come out before Christmas, with anticipation and trepidation. I hope they address this kinds of squabble, but if they don’t, we’re in for years of bickering as ISPs try to chisel the last penny out of their peering agreements, while Netflix customers watch the “Retrieving” or “Buffering” screen instead of their on-demand movie.