Unbalanced Peering and the Whole Story Behind the Verizon/Cogent Dispute

David Young
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In an article this week on GigaOM, the authors “blame Verizon” for failing to add more ports to accommodate the growing volume of traffic coming from Cogent Communications, another bandwidth provider. Unfortunately, GigaOM didn’t have the full story.

Routine business dispute

The authors accurately describe settlement-free peering as “essentially an arrangement between two bandwidth providers where they send and receive traffic from each other for free.” It goes on to say: “the logic is that the data sent from one network to another is reciprocated.”

What the article doesn’t say, however, is that Cogent is not compliant with one of the basic and long-standing requirements for most settlement-free peering arrangements: that traffic between the providers be roughly in balance. When the traffic loads are not symmetric, the provider with the heavier load typically pays the other for transit (see our ex parte from the 2010 Comcast/Level3 spat for more info on peering and transit agreements). This isn’t a story about Netflix, or about Verizon “letting” anybody’s traffic deteriorate. This is a fairly boring story about a bandwidth provider that is unhappy that they are out of balance and will have to make alternative arrangements for capacity enhancements, just like any other interconnecting ISP.

Readily available solutions

Verizon offers a number of readily available solutions for interconnecting providers who send significantly more traffic than they receive from Verizon’s networks.  Solutions such as cloud, hosting, Partner Ports and others are designed specifically to provide a cost-effective means of delivering very large volumes of out-of-balance traffic. Other large streaming video providers (and/or network service providers carrying such one-way traffic) are already taking advantage of these solutions and seeing immediate benefits. These solutions are available to today to Cogent, Netflix and any other content or network service provider with similar traffic profiles.

Repeat offender

Most commercial peering/transit arrangements are able to be resolved without controversy. Unfortunately, some parties prefer to grandstand, repeatedly creating a perceived crisis that could affect Internet users in order to attract the attention of policymakers and gain leverage in negotiations (we would add that this type of behavior is detrimental to a free, well-functioning Internet, and the tech media should know better than to encourage it). Policymakers should recognize that the Internet interconnection market has seen very few major disruptions over the past twenty years, and should allow it to continue evolving to serve the needs of Internet users and content and service providers alike.