Comcast/Level 3 dispute brings net neutrality debate back into focus


Netflix, which delivers movies to the homes of subscribing viewers, used to rely on the US mail to transport its entertainment offerings, but increasingly is using the internet instead. Its distribution partner Level 3 Communications says it is being charged extra by Comcast Communication’s ISP business, and the FCC is planning on looking into the matter.

Level 3 claims that Comcast has erected a “toll booth” on the internet, and says it is an abuse of its power as a gatekeeper.

Comcast says that Netflix and Level 3 are making extraordinary use of its available bandwidth and need to pay for it.
At the FCC’s November Open Meeting, Chairman Julius Genachowski indicated that the Commission would look into the matter, but said any further comment would be inappropriate.

Josh Silver of Free Press had earlier called this situation a “moment of truth” for Genachowski. “This is just a preview of what a media monopoly will look like in the Internet age – one company, consolidating its media power to squash competitors, stifle innovation and price-gouge consumers. Comcast has demonstrated time and again that it can’t be trusted and will do anything and everything to undercut its competition, abuse its power, and evade accountability. The FCC needs to launch an immediate investigation into these latest allegations by Level 3 and Zoom and do whatever it takes to protect Internet users.”

The flip side of Free Press’s complaint is the need to manage internet traffic, which includes considering the question as to how heavy users should be charged for that heavy use.

It is the combination of providing both access to the platform and content for the platform that gives rise to concerns about abuse.