ISPs continue to improve Internet access SLAs

The battle over ISP service-level agreements rages on as Cable & Wireless this week rolls out enhancements to its performance guarantees.

Cable & Wireless is beefing up its maximum allowable latency SLA for dedicated Internet access customers. The ISP now guarantees that dedicated Internet access customers will not experience more than 55 milliseconds of round-trip latency over its network.

The company's existing SLA promises 100% network availability and includes a guarantee that users will not sustain more than 1% packet loss.

Only new Cable & Wireless customers automatically get the stronger latency guarantee. Existing customers should contact their sales representative to amend their contracts to include the upgrade.

The Cable & Wireless offer trumps AT&T's SLA enhancement announced last month, which guarantees users will not experience more than 60 milliseconds of round-trip latency.

AT&T's SLA also guarantees that its network is 99.99% available, and that customers will not sustain more than .07% packet loss.

Users are hard-pressed to appreciate many of the SLA differences from top ISPs.

"Do latency and availability guarantees help me make a buying decision? Nope," says Geoffery Moon, CIO at Allied Coverage, a Jericho, N.Y., insurance brokerage. "Especially when all of the carriers are offering nearly identical packages."

Which isn't to say SLAs don't matter.

"There is a big difference between 60 milliseconds and 120 milliseconds of round-trip latency when you're trying to support voice or video," says Robert Carlson, a senior analyst at consulting firm Current Analysis.

"But it's not that big of a deal when you're simply accessing the Internet," he adds.

The bottom line for users is often the bottom line.

"When an ISP violates an SLA, I want to know if it'll costs the carrier as much as it'll cost me. When the two are equal, that's when SLAs will really mean something," Moon says. "Until then, I think [SLAs] are just marketing gimmicks."

Nearly all ISPs offer one-day service credits if an SLA is not met. For example, an AT&T Managed Internet Service (MIS) customer will get a $66 credit if more than .07% of their packets are lost in one month. That credit is based on a $1,970 monthly service fee an MIS customer pays on a one-year contract for a dedicated T-1.

Genuity offers customers a slightly stronger credit. The ISP offers a three-day credit if its network is unavailable for more than 60 minutes during one instance.

Each ISP has a ceiling on the amount of credits it will issue each month, but these ceilings vary. Cable & Wireless will credit customers up to seven days' worth of service per month. AT&T will credit customers as long as the credits do not exceed that month's service fee.

In addition to performance SLAs, users want assurances on mean time to repair and installation times, Carlson says.

"We're looking for a degree of responsiveness," says Rich Gay, IS director at Linbeck Construction in Houston.

"Latency guarantees are more meaningful than some of the other SLAs, but I want to know how quickly my carrier can fix an outage," he adds.

Cable & Wireless is one of only a few ISPs that guarantee it will fix a network outage within 10 minutes. If this SLA isn't met, a customer gets a one-day service credit.

AT&T is offering an installation guarantee as part of its standard SLA. The carrier guarantees that MIS customers will have a dedicated T-1 line installed within 32 business days, a dedicated T-3 within 42 business days and an OC-3 within 63 business days. If AT&T misses any of these installation windows, a customer does not have to pay the installation fee of $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000, respectively.

"Anyone who has the guts to put in an installation guarantee has to be commended," Carlson says. "Most providers are having trouble dealing with the local access services providers."

Intermedia and UUNET also offer comparable installation SLAs.

More ISPs are also covering a customer's local-loop connection under standard SLA offerings. AT&T, Genuity and UUNET include the local loop, but with stipulations.

AT&T's guarantee only covers customers that subscribe to AT&T's managed router Internet access service called MIS. Genuity and UUNET will only cover customers that order their local-loop connection through the ISP.

This story, "ISPs continue to improve Internet access SLAs " was originally published by Network World.

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