Level 3 Communications Issues Statement Concerning Comcast'sActions

Owen DeLong owen at delong.com
Mon Nov 29 18:07:27 CST 2010

On Nov 29, 2010, at 3:42 PM, George Bonser wrote:

>> From: Rettke, Brian 
>> Sent: Monday, November 29, 2010 2:41 PM
>> To: Patrick W. Gilmore; NANOG list
>> Subject: RE: Level 3 Communications Issues Statement Concerning
>> Comcast'sActions
>> Essentially, the question is who has to pay for the infrastructure to
>> support the bandwidth requirements of all of these new and booming
>> streaming ventures. 
>> From a cultural standpoint, we in the US are used to a model where the
> sender pays the postage for unsolicited content and the requestor pays
> the shipping for requested content.  So asking an ad network to pay
> Comcast for shipping their ads is valid but in a request where the end
> user specifically asked for a movie, the user should be expected to pay
> for that.  What Comcast appears to be doing is subsidizing "flat rate"
> customer rates by charging the providers "metered" access (assuming the
> fee charged the provider isn't also a "flat rate").  If so, that really
> isn't fair because:
On the internet, how would you tell these apart?

First, as I have said in a previous message, I think Comcast's actions
here are deplorable. However...

Generally speaking, most (legitimate) ads are delivered as content on
web pages at various sites. As a result, they are "requested" specifically
by the user's browser right alongside all the other content the end user
actually asked for.

Perhaps part of the problem here is that Comcast comes from a culture
where advertisers pay to deliver their advertising which is delivered
directly alongside the content that the consumer actually wants.
Perhaps Comcast is having a hard time realizing that the internet
is not broadcast television, or, perhaps they think they can convert
the rest of us to thinking of the internet along those lines.

Certainly the ad-delivery method on the web is actually more in line
with that of broadcast television than it is in line with postal delivery
of advertising.

> 1.  The provider has no control over the size of or number of requests
> that are made.  The provider is essentially agreeing to an unknown
> quantity in advance.
> 2.  There is no way to ensure that a request is legitimate and not a
> request generated simply to generate revenue (sort of like click fraud
> ... stream fraud).
> 3.  It opens the provider up to a "denial of sustainability" attack
> where a bot net requests many copies of various streams, sends them to
> the equivalent of /dev/null and the provider is presented with a huge
> bill.
> 4.  The only way a provider could mitigate increases in fees is to meter
> access causing a sub-optimal user experience.
All valid points. In fact, this points out that while the approach
Comcast is taking appears to resemble the "sponsor pays"
model of broadcast television, the metered aspect is a major
difference which changes the game significantly.

I suspect that Comcast is operating from the assumption that
every request for content to the provider is money flowing to
the provider so that the money collected by Comcast for the
corresponding traffic is merely "their cut" of the revenue.
Of course we all know this is a flawed assumption on Comcast's
part, but, if you look at it from that mind set the belief can
be rationalized, even if it is misguided.

> Shouldn't Level3 turn around and charge Comcast for distributing
> NBC/Universal content?
Seems like a reasonable response, but, hopefully Level 3 will not
surrender the high ground since they have it for the moment.

> The whole thing is like a movie theater charging the studios to show
> movies while selling tickets to the public to watch them.  Actualy, it
> is like Universal opening their own movie theaters and charging
> competing studios to show their movies while still charging the public
> to see them.  Comcast is simply imposing a tariff on competing content.
> If I were level3, I would have denied the request. Customers on Comcast
> would then discover they have sub-optimal Internet service and gone to a
> competitor (AT&T Uverse or Verizon FIOS, for example).
That's great in areas where that is an option. There are many areas served
by Comcast where Uverse, FIOS, etc. are not available. I live in San Jose,
California, the so called Capitol of Silicon Valley. In my neighborhood,
Comcast is the only cost effective alternative for more than 1.5mbps/384kbps.
(A residential DS-3 circuit is not cost effective).

> As owner of NBC Universal, Comcast is a producer as well as a
> distributor of content.  That puts them in direct competition with other
> producers regardless of the distributor.  Level3 should deny the request
> and Comcast users will have "Internet" access instead of Internet
> access.  Comcast doesn't have the captive audience they once had in many
> places and when customers discover their choices are limited when they
> choose Comcast, they will go elsewhere.  
> I hope Level3's acquiescence is temporary or the FTC puts a stop to it.
> It is sort of like FedEx owning the freeway and charging UPS to use it.

I hope so, too. Unfortunately, Comcast is very experienced at these
kinds of bullying tactics and they have used them very successfully
with broadcasters and others for many years. If there is hope, it likely
lies with the regulators.


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