A border war has broken out between tier-1 providers Cogent Communications (CCOI) and Sprint Nextel (S), they are no longer exchanging traffic. That means that single homed clients of Cogent cannot access data on Sprint’s network, and vice versa. The internet is, for the time being, partitioned, as one can see here. Cogent issued its usual PR within hours of the interruption blaming everything on Sprint. But of course, this is not Cogent’s first peering war, or even its second, or third.
In fact, Cogent has been involved in at least 4 prior such incidents in the last 6 years: AOL in 2003, France Telecom in 2006, Level 3 in 2005 and TeliaSonera in March of this year. What makes this one even more interesting is that Cogent had just attained apparent Tier-1 status in June by coming to an arrangement with AOL. Well, everyone says they’re a Tier-1 network but that’s just marketing, taking advantage of the lack of a binding definition of the term. Cogent seemed to have finally been accepted at the club and neighborliness seemed possible at last, but alas it did not work out that way.
So what prompted this war? Cogent usually makes the case that their opponent has been offended by their low pricing and is retaliating by breaking contractual agreements and such. Their opponents usually make the case that Cogent’s traffic ratios are off and that Cogent is misusing peering to get a free ride. But really, none of this matters because peering agreements are voluntary. They are determined by two things: 1) relative economic benefit, and 2) power. Peering wars generally mean that one side wants to change the first because they think they have the second. For a less blunt explanation, see this excellent article from a few months ago on how the internet works.
Cogent has been involved in so many of these mainly because they are very aggressive, whether it be in sales, network design, or negotiation. And being the little guy compared to all their opponents, they feel that if they back down then everyone will see them as easy pickings – with some justification. So when another network cuts off peering with Cogent, they had better be ready for war. Presumably Sprint-Nextel knows this by now.
I expect we will hear from Renesys shortly about the extent of the partition. But by now if they have been paying any attention at all, most customers of Cogent will be multi-homed, right? That way they don’t depend on Cogent’s relationships with its peers, which have always been rocky, yes? Haha, yeah right.
So what happens now? We wait for them to negotiate a new agreement, or for one of them to surrender and buy IP transit. Most likely it will be the former, but while that might take hours (we should be so lucky!) it could take weeks or even months. In the meantime, other providers will probably descend and make special offers to the customers on both sides, hoping to pry away some revenue.
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