Without knowing all of the commercial details, it’s hard to know what to make of Level 3’s recent claim that Comcast is threatening the openness of the Internet by requiring Level 3 to pay Comcast a fee to deliver Level 3 traffic to Comcast subscribers. But as the companies have traded arguments in both directions (see Comcast’s initial comments, Level 3’s response, and Comcast’s FCC ex parte), certain aspects of the spat are starting to become a little more clear. The companies had an existing peering arrangement, which Comcast is seeking to renegotiate in light of increased traffic volume coming from Level 3. Level 3 would rather not pay for a peering connection that used to be settlement-free. While the renegotiation was clearly precipitated by Level 3’s new video streaming deal with Netflix, it’s difficult to see how Comcast’s demands could be construed as targeting particular content, application, or service. The arrangement between the two companies is clearly based on quantities of traffic, not traffic content. So it’s unlikely that this dispute raises net neutrality concerns of the sort that the FCC has been grappling with over the past several years.
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