With a month left before net neutrality complaints can be filed to the Federal Communications Commission, Internet service providers are continuing to sign agreements to prevent network congestion and a potential scolding from regulators.
The latest agreement was announced today between AT&T and Level 3, an Internet backbone operator that has accused broadband providers like AT&T of not upgrading interconnection points, allowing Internet performance for consumers to be degraded. A month ago, Level 3 told National Journal that it was “evaluating our options” and “still experiencing interconnection point congestion as some large consumer ISPs continue to attempt to leverage control over access to their users to extract arbitrary tolls.”
While the FCC’s net neutrality order bans paid prioritization of traffic after it enters providers’ networks, it doesn’t ban payments for interconnection, which happens at the edges of the network. However, the FCC set up a complaint process so it can decide whether particular demands are unreasonable and prod companies into providing enough capacity to prevent Internet slowdowns. Complaints can be filed beginning June 12.
The Level 3/AT&T congestion should be eliminated because of the new agreement. The “long-term, bilateral interconnection agreement for their IP networks… will result in improved efficiency of traffic exchange, and the additional capacity and new interconnection locations between the networks will allow customers to continue to experience high-quality performance and network reliability,” the companies said.
The companies did not say whether Level 3 is paying AT&T for interconnection. Level 3 may not have to pay because the FCC’s new complaint process provides leverage to network operators who insist that they should not have to pay for network connections. Cogent, another backbone operator that has warred with Internet providers, recently announced a free peering deal with Verizon. Level 3 and Verizon also settled their differences last month.
Level 3’s fights with AT&T and other providers hit their height when Netflix was sending traffic through Level 3 instead of directly to the Internet providers. The problem was solved when Netflix paid the Internet service providers for direct network connections, but independent testing showed there was still congestion harming websites that pay third parties to distribute their traffic into the networks of broadband providers. (Level 3 and Cogent generally don’t discuss who their customers are.)