Over the holiday week, DSLPrime put out an interesting piece looking at what may be the next great battle on the fault line of peering and network neutrality. It seems that China isn’t the only place you can’t watch YouTube these days, if you’re in France this December you may also be out of luck as Google and the French last mile providers are at odds and seem to be digging trenches.
The details are sketchy at best, and I’d welcome any color that knowledgeable Ramblings readers could provide. But basically, Free, FT, and apparently their other French brethren are demanding payment in order to increase the pipes through which they exchange traffic with Google, and network performance has been degrading as Google refuses to pay what it sees as a thinly disguised ‘Sender Pays’ toll on content providers.
Cogent is mentioned in the reports and seems to be involved in the data transfer between Google and some of the carriers, but the nature of that relationship is unclear. Cogent itself has had a difficult relationship with French ISPs over the usual traffic ratio and disruptive pricing flash points, leading to some creative routing over the years and at least one peering dispute with FT some six years ago.
In the past year, however, those disputes have made it to French regulators and apparently recently the French ISPs won some sort of victory on that front in September. This dispute over Google’s YouTube video traffic appears to be a manifestation of their newfound confidence, and while the fast growing Free is logically feeling the congestion more than others they aren’t the only ones.
But precisely what sort of peering/transit/whatever relationship is in dispute is still unclear, as is whether Cogent is directly involved in Google’s dispute or not. Google, of course, operates its own network and maintains its own relationships with many carriers worldwide. But is nevertheless not operating the same thing as a Tier 1 global transit network and its true negotiating power and its relationship with IP transit carriers like Cogent remain rather opaque from my point of view.
But it’s clear they are being pressured over traffic growth. It has now been just over two years since Comcast and Level 3 got into their tussle over Netflix’s bits, and nothing has really been resolved. For three years now, I have been making the point that enforcing network neutrality in the last mile would eventually have upstream ramifications, and it looks like the kettle is starting to boil.
Most of the political ‘Sender Pays’ and ‘Content providers must help us’ grumbling we hear from telecom operators falls down when one tries to actually figure out how such a thing would work – who writes the bill, what does he actually tabulate, and where does it get sent. But if network neutrality makes it impossible or impractical to mess with particular content, then the next logical place to try to put up a toll booth has always been via a distortion in the peering/transit relationships between carriers.
The eyeball and content networks have an asymmetric relationship due to the lack of alternative paths at the capillary end of the data circulatory system. Tilting the balance of power toward the last mile operators to take advantage of that asymmetry is the easiest way to try to squeeze content operators without directly messing with individual content streams. Yet doing so would be sure to have all sorts of unforeseen consequences. For now though it’s still not a shooting war, as all we’re talking about is deliberately unresolved network congestion. It’s not as if we haven’t gone down this part of the road before.
The question is whether being unable to view YouTube videos will bother French consumers enough, and if so where will they direct their ire? And will it hurt Google enough to take its finger out of the dike? Because you know that the moment they give in, every European last mile operator will jump on the same bandwagon.