03 December, 2008

The Interent fails for Sprint and Cogent customers

If you're a Sprint or Cogent customer, relying on them for your Internet connectivity, you're probably already aware of this article from Scott Woolley of Forbes. In late October, due to differences between these companies, Sprint severed the Internet backbone connection between them. The result was customers on both sides not being able to reach all parts of the Internet.

The feud goes back several years, with what appears that Sprint is being a bit of a bully. It is common practice for the Internet backbone carries to exchange traffic between them for no cost. The rationale is that it benefits both companies' customers and the traffic is even enough both ways where there is no profit to be made by one company or the other. In this case, "...Sprint stood to gain $1.5 million or so in annual revenue, which would add .004% to the company's $40 billion in annual revenue." (Note that this was based on Sprint's billing justifications; there's nothing to say this was a fair and reasonable rate.) $1.5 million seems like a lot of money, but what was the financial impact to the customers of Sprint and Cogent? And to Cognet that has revenues in 10s of millions, it's a much greater impact. Again, Sprint is being a bully, not even taking into account the impact to their own customers.

To make a long story short, when an agreement breaks down between companies, users suffer. Not just the subscribers to those services, but customers trying to reach websites of companies that subscribe to the services. The Forbes article draws the conclusion that perhaps the unregulated backbone connections is very dangerous for all Internet users and the FCC should be stepping in.

In my opinion, all aspects of connectivity to the Internet need to be looked at -- this is just one more item to add to the list of Net Neutrality. The Internet is important enough to the people and companies of our country that government needs to step in and make sure it is treated like a utility -- like water and electricity. Whether urban or rural, whether rich or poor, all people of the U.S. should have uninterrupted Internet access at a reasonable speed and a reasonable capacity. What is reasonable is a topic for another time, but if it takes government to keep these connectivity arrangements together, then they need to add some regulation and oversight to it.

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