November 29, 2010, 6:46 PM — Comcast has demanded that broadband backbone provider Level 3 Communications pay it a recurring fee for delivering video traffic to Comcast customers, Level 3 said Monday.
Comcast said it would cut off its own customers' access to the movies and other Web traffic unless Level 3 paid the fee, Level 3 said in a press release.
The Comcast decision violates network neutrality principles that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved in 2005, Level 3 said. Comcast successfully challenged the FCC's enforcement of the net neutrality principles when, earlier this year, a U.S. appeals court threw out its ruling against the broadband provider slowing peer-to-peer traffic on its network.
It's unclear why Comcast would seek to charge Level 3 for the activities of its own broadband customers. Level 3 announced Nov. 11 that it would be the primary delivery partner for streaming video service from Netflix.
Comcast informed Level 3 on Nov. 19 that it would begin charging the backbone provider for transmitting online movies and other content to Comcast customers, Thomas Stortz, Level 3's chief legal officer, said in a statement.
A week ago, "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," Stortz said in the statement.
A Comcast spokeswoman said late Monday she was looking into the Level 3 complaints. She didn't have an immediate comment.
The timing of Comcast's actions are curious, given rumors that the FCC plans to act on formal net neutrality rules during its Dec. 21 meeting, said Matthew Wood, associate director at the Media Access Project (MAP), a communications policy group favoring stronger net neutrality rules.
"That is exactly the kind of thing that we're trying to prevent from happening, some sort of paid prioritization or payment for the privilege of terminating your traffic with a particular ISP's customers," Wood said. "The type of thing they're describing ... is exactly the reason that we need to have rules in place."
Opponents of stronger net neutrality rules have often suggested that there have been few examples of broadband providers selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic. "The problems seem to keep cropping up without us doing much stirring to find them," Wood said.