This certainly changes things. You’ll recall that the Internet flipped out the other day when it emerged that Netflix‘s traffic carrier, Level 3, said that Comcast was taking advantage of its position as one of the nation’s largest ISPs by demanding more coin to pass on Netflix traffic to its customers. It is, in fact, largely boring tosh, but it speaks to something we’ve been talking about for some time. That is, of course, Net Neutrality, which I tend to capitalize for some reason, almost imbuing it with a greater sense of importance. No matter, for nor Comcast has told its side of the story, and things are quite different in its recollection of events.
Comcast, feeling some FCC heat, says that this particular incident is truly nothing more than a plain ol’ commercial dispute. This isn’t Comcast playing the heel, tap-dancing all over the principles of Net Neutrality. In fact, you might even say that Comcast is the victim here.
I know the idea of Comcast being any sort of victim won’t sit well with many folks on the Internet—Comcast’s past behavior certainly won’t be forgotten for some time yet—but it’s important to at least listen to what it has to say before calling for whatever.
Here’s Comcast, verbatim:
Level 3 has low-balled its way into a new business deal that will significantly increase the amount of Level 3’s traffic Comcast would carry. and suddenly wants to seriously disrupt settled economics of Internet traffic to meet its new business plan. Its position is not based on any principles of fair play on the Internet, but instead is merely the result of its rash bid to carry Netflix traffic at radically low rates, based on the flawed assumption that it could use its Tier 1 Internet backbone status to cram its CDN traffic onto others’ networks on a settlement-free basis.
In other words, Level 3 won Netflix’s business by promising it a sweetheart deal that it was in no position to deliver. Then it turns to Comcast and says, “Oh hai. We need you to deliver a megaton more traffic than we’ve ever asked before. Please comply as soon as possible. You don’t want to be accused of being anti-Net Neutrality, do you?”
Comcast, not wanting to look like a jerk (particularly when it’s trying to give Washington regulators the impression that it’s a force for good—NBC Universal won’t come easily), tried its best to accommodate Level 3’s request (Comcast “was able to scramble and provide Level 3 with six ports (at no charge) that were, by chance, available and not budgeted and forecasted for Comcast’s wholesale commercial customers”), even though it had no contractual reason to do so.
All of this means—again, if Comcast is being truthful here—that Comcast is not quite the boogeyman that it’s so often portrayed as.
Which brings us back to Net Neutrality. Perhaps Level 3 thought it could ride the wave of popular support for Net Neutrality—I’m still not convinced that Net Neutrality is “controversial” in any sense of the word—by invoking memories of Comcast’s past behavior. Here’s Netflix, one of the new darlings of the Internet, showing us just how much Streaming Is The Future, being bullied by big bad Comcast. (Let’s ignore the fact that all of this bandwidth has to come from somewhere—you surely can’t expect to pay the same amount ore month for Internet access as someone who only uses their connection to check Facebook when you’re streaming Netflix movies all day long.) Only that wasn’t the case at all.
Again, maybe. This all assumes Comcast isn’t leaving out certain details in order to look good.
All of this, just so you can watch Eat, Pray, Love on demand.