This morning in a U.S. Federal court in Virginia, Cogent Communications has filed suit against Deutsche Telekom A.G. for breach of contract. Cogent says that DT has ‘interfered with the free flow of internet traffic’ by ‘refusing to increase the capacity of the interconnection ports that allow the exchange of traffic’.
Earlier this year as part of its new Title II-based net neutrality plan the FCC inserted itself into the world of peering and interconection as watchdog, at least in the USA. Soon thereafter, a series of new interconnection agreements between internet backbones and last mile providers were announced, apparently defusing what had been a tense, public standoff between content providers on one side, eyeball networks on the other, and with backbone operators in the middle.
The practice of letting peering points get congested as a means for one network to pressure another to pay for the right to interconnect has a murky but long history. Basically, it’s a contest of pain thresholds and blame shifting, as customers on both sides see poor performance until the situation is resolved. With the rise of Netflix and the vast amount of OTT traffic it generated, the effects of such disputes have risen much closer to the surface. Cogent is taking this one to court.
Cogent interconnects with DT in both Frankfurt and Ashburn, and they put out these two graphs:
The image on the left represents traffic in Frankfurt, with the green being traffic that is inbound to Cogent and the blue being outbound to DT, while the right shows the same thing in Ashburn. When the blue hits the top of the graph, packets get dropped — as is clearly happening a lot, especially in Frankfurt. Cogent says this is harming US companies who don’t have a European presence but have traffic that German consumers want to interact with, but clearly it’s also not helping European companies seeking a different route to German consumers either.
But you can read other things into the graphs above that help flesh out the story. The traffic is quite asymmetrical, with far more bits flowing to DT than to Cogent. That’s very common of course when it comes to the modern internet. Consumers consume much more than they generate. Peering agreements have historically envisioned the exchange of balanced traffic, despite the fact that balanced traffic is a thing of the past on today’s internet. DT is surely going to be bringing that side of things to the table when they talk about breach of contract.
Another interesting feature is that DT hands nearly all the traffic it has with Cogent in Germany rather than sending it across the Atlantic itself. We can probably assume that most of DT’s traffic comes from European eyeballs, while Cogent’s biggest sources are in the US but with a substantial European wholesale presence as well. Cogent clearly wants to deliver much of what it has for DT in Frankfurt, but delivers what it can in Ashburn. DT, for its part, is basically hot-potatoing all its traffic to Cogent, i.e. handing it off as soon as possible, into a clearly overburdened congestion point. While clearly they’d have less to hand off, it wouldn’t be this much less without a conscious decision.
The other thing to note is the timescale. Both plots cover an entire year, in which the situation did not change at all. Dysfunction anyone? And so now the courts get involved. Or perhaps we just see negotiations get restarted again and things get quickly settled — it wouldn’t be the first time. At least nobody is depeering anybody else, yet…
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