WTF, Comcast?

First off, I’m going to start posting technical articles here again. I’ve been on hiatus doing a web curation project over on Tumblr. That was good fun and all, but I started tailoring the content more to what the audience wanted to see than what I was interested in. A brief example is that an image post would ALWAYS do better than a quote or text post. I like writing, so here I am.

Ok, Comcast and Level 3. I know a thing or two about peering, I wrote a graduate level economic analysis of the practice when WorldCom was set to take over everything, but I’m not going to go into any details because I’ll probably get something wrong. Almost every article bouncing around the echochamber has glaring flaws in it, but I’m not going to go into that either.

Here is what I want to know and that nobody is telling me. Level 3 is a backbone provider getting into the CDN business. As a backbone provider, it is capable of entering into a peering arrangement as traffic flows on/off of their network. Level 3 has many CDN competitors: Akamai, Limelight, etc. These guys don’t run networks, so peering is not an option. This leaves them having to pay Comcast and the various ISP it delivers traffic to and thus gives Level 3 a pricing advantage.

Now Comcast is stating that Level 3 is a CDN and must pay. This is all well and good, but Level 3 is BOTH a network provider and a CDN. The fees the other guys pay generally have to do with colocation at the ISP peering points and not some much (or if at all, with network traffic)… and Level 3 does not have to pay the colo fees as they own equipment in these same facilities. So the question is, how much is Comcast charging regular CDNs for colo services vs. how much are they charging for network traffic?

If the charge for network traffic is non-zero (or pretty damn close), I’m at a loss. The CDNs seem to be doing the ISPs a favor by bringing the content closer to their customers and removing unnecessary traffic costs. I can understand a traffic charge for content flowing over a pure transit network (as opposed to a peered network), but I doubt such traffic would cost the ISP anything as they are on peered connections.

If anyone can point me to a sane explanation of the above and why Comcast feels it can charge a hybrid CDN/Network to deliver traffic to its own customers, the ones that made the request in the first place, it’d greatly appreciate it.

This post is intentionally light on technical detail.

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