When there is opposition to something popular, one very human response is find a way to fight it without ever naming it directly. Instead one chooses a proxy, something that sounds better. It seems to me that this is the case right now in the Comcast/Level3 spat. One of Comcast's principal positions is that traffic from Level 3 is that the traffic ratio is rising, maybe approaching 5-1, and therefore they are abusing the peering system. But when connecting to a last mile network on the internet of today and tomorrow, how can it be any other way?
Comcast itself sells asymmetric bandwidth to its customers. Upload speeds are far slower than download speeds - usually the ratio is around five to one in favor of downloads (sound familiar?). Their customers invariably download far more than they upload - by far the largest and most asymmetric of that being video. Mathematically, there are only two ways that this basic asymmetry won't propagate to the peering relationships on the other side of Comcast's network sooner or later. Either
- The consumer requests his video from Comcast, and thus it is served internally, or
- The consumer requests his video from an over the top provider which is delivered over transit or paid peering connections to Comcast's network
Thus, if a traffic ratio of near one is required for settlement-free peering with a last mile providers, then such peers can NEVER deliver much over-the-top video and are therefore cut out of the equation. So for a content provider to to deliver substantial video to Comcast's customers in competition to Comcast itself, they must pay for a direct connection to Comcast or to someone else who does. Other traffic can come in from peers - web browsing, email, VoIP, but not over-the-top video.
By choosing to make a stand on traffic ratios in peers, Comcast is fighting directly against over-the-top video, pure and simple. This way they can state to regulators that they will not interfere with over the top traffic, as they did recently during the NBC merger oversight, even while trying to create a world where they *always* get paid on both ends for that same traffic. And while they must compete in a duopoly for the consumer end, they can set whatever price they like for transit because there is no way to bypass the consumer connections they have at any one time. Quite elegant actually. Why build a new toll booth when you can just re-purpose the one you have and close down all other gates.
There has long been a dispute about whether traffic ratios are a real and important criteria in peering, or else simply a conveniently labeled bargaining chip in a game of power. But we're going to see that debate move beyond the traditional crowd of IP nerds now, I think.