FCC getting involved in Level 3, Comcast Internet traffic spat

Comcast is being criticized after it has decided to charge Level 3 Communications a surcharge for 'excessive' bandwidth usage. According to the cable provider, Level 3 is sending about five times as much data to Comcast as is going the other way, it said in a statement.

Under protest that it violates open Internet principles Level 3 is paying the surcharge. It claims Comcast essentially gave the company an ultimatum to accept its terms, which Level 3 had no choice but agree to or face possible disruptions. Comcast's move has also spurred the FCC to ask for more information on the deal.

Level 3's core business previously entailed the carriage of Internet traffic across the US, but it has increasingly turned to a distribution model in order to expand its business. Netflix's popular streaming video service being one of its chief customers in this space. Obviously this change will also boost the amount of bandwidth that Level 3 would require.

"Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content," Level 3 chief legal officer Thomas Stortz said in a statement. "This action … is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access markets."

The cable provider returned fire in a competing statement, with its own legal counsel Joe Waz saying Level 3 had misrepresented negotiations, and wants increased bandwidth for its own customers for free, with Comcast's customers footing the bill.

"We are happy to maintain a balanced, no-cost traffic exchange with Level 3," Waz said. "However, when one provider exploits this type of relationship by pushing the burden of massive traffic growth onto the other provider and its customers, we believe this is not fair."

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said at a press conference Tuesday that the agency would be seeking more information on the dispute, however he did not elaborate on whether the FCC would take any further action at this time.

Net neutrality advocates were quick to jump on Comcast's move as proof of why network access needs to be regulated, but even went as far to suggest that it validated "tendency to exercise control in the video marketplace" according to Media Access Project's policy chief Andrew Jay Schwartzman.

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