Comcast Strong-Arms Level 3

I can remember talking about it before. It was only a matter of time before Comcast, and others, began putting their nasty marks on the internet without a net neutrality ruling from the FCC.

Now, while the FCC has been sitting on its hands, Comcast has made the delivery of content that it does not want competing with its own, more expensive.

So much for internet freedom and equitable usage of resources.

From the Level 3 website came this notice today –

Level 3 Communications Issues Statement Concerning Comcast’s Actions

BROOMFIELD, Colo., November 29, 2010

Level 3 Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: LVLT) today issued the following statement, which can be attributed to Thomas Stortz, Chief Legal Officer of Level 3:

“On November 19, 2010, Comcast informed Level 3 that, for the first time, it will demand a recurring fee from Level 3 to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content. By taking this action, 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 which competes with its own cable TV and Xfinity delivered content. This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access markets as the nation’s largest cable provider.

Does it sound like it is time to drop Comcast like a bad habit? Warnings were there; the people who pay attention knew this was coming when Comcast started metering content. When they started up the idea that there could be no more “all you can eat” internet access, though they made huge sums of money by overpricing access based upon the idea that not only would access be unlimited but also that speeds would continue to rise with the money that was being collected.

Instead, the profits soared, the buildout promised was only marginally  implemented, and the stockholders got fat and sassy. Today we have a Comcast that is barely ready to implement IPv6, when they knew of the coming problems 15 years ago or more, and did little to make sure its network was ready.

“On November 22, 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.

“Level 3 operates one of several broadband backbone networks, which are part of the Internet and which independent providers of online content use to transmit movies, sports, games and other entertainment to consumers. When a Comcast customer requests such content, for example an online movie or game, Level 3 transmits the content to Comcast for delivery to consumers.

“Level 3 believes Comcast’s current position violates the spirit and letter of the FCC’s proposed Internet Policy principles and other regulations and statutes, as well as Comcast’s previous public statements about favoring an open Internet.

Everyone’s position, that is, all the big players, will soon do the same thing if Comcast is allowed to do this. This will begin a spiral of doom that will bring down the many grandiose thoughts of the content providers, because when they find they are being double charged, on-demand content will dry up like a desert oasis in a hot summer.

“While the network neutrality debate in Washington has focused on what actions a broadband access provider might take to filter, prioritize or manage content requested by its subscribers, Comcast’s decision goes well beyond this. With this action, Comcast is preventing competing content from ever being delivered to Comcast’s subscribers at all, unless Comcast’s unilaterally-determined toll is paid – even though Comcast’s subscribers requested the content. With this action, Comcast demonstrates the risk of a ‘closed’ Internet, where a retail broadband Internet access provider decides whether and how their subscribers interact with content.

“It is our hope that Comcast’s senior management, for whom we have great respect, will closely consider their position on this issue and adopt an approach that will better serve Comcast and Comcast’s customers.

“While Comcast’s position is regrettable, Level 3 remains open and willing to work through these issues with Comcast. However, Level 3 does not seek any ‘special deals’ or arrangements not generally available to other Internet backbone companies.

“Given Comcast’s currently stated position, we are approaching regulators and policy makers and asking them to take quick action to ensure that a fair, open and innovative Internet does not become a closed network controlled by a few institutions with dominant market power that have the means, motive and opportunity to economically discriminate between favored and disfavored content.“

Come on, Uncle Julius (Genachowski), all we want for Christmas is an internet that is free and open, without any of the big players turning it into their private playground, and charging way too much to play.

You have been watching and waiting, and we really want you, and your elves at the FCC, to give us what we want. It really is not that hard, and we will forgive your other trespasses against the greater public, and get fully behind you on this one, with writing campaigns, letters to Congress, or whatever else it takes.


UPDATE 11/30/10 0930 – There is a very complete article now on HuffPo about the abuses of Comcast, and over time what we can expect if the FCC doesn’t do their job.