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Level 3 Will Use "Stolen Bandwidth" for Netflix

Having accused Comcast of attacking net neutrality, Level 3 Communications Inc. now finds itself accused of stealing in the name of closing a deal with Netflix. George Ou, writing for Digital Society, says Level 3’s actions have nothing to do with protecting net neutrality.

He contends that the comapny is attempting to go around an existing “peering agreement” with Comcast. This defines a “settlement scheme” between two networks—in this case Comcast and Level 3—where both parties agree to pay each other depending on the network traffic they exchange. In situations where both networks send each other the same amount of traffic, no money may change hands under this quid pro quo arrangement.

For example, if Comcast’s users send more traffic to Level 3’s servers (by uploading files to Level 3’s clients) then Comcast will have to pay Level 3 on a per Mbps basis. The reverse is true: if Level 3 sends more traffic to Comcast’s servers (sending videos to the computers of Comcast subscribers for instance) then Level 3 has to pay.

According to Ou, with Netflix as one of its clients, Level 3 will send 5 times as much traffic as it receives. Thus the company’s payments to Comcast will grow significantly. Ou even accuses Level 3 of effectively “stealing bandwidth”, saying that the company was able to outbid competitor Akamai for the Netflix contract because it will keep costs down by not paying Comcast for the increased load.

One option available to Comcast, concludes Ou, is that they can simply refuse the excess traffic from Level 3. This action would affect Level 3’s promised ability to deliver Netflix content, and may cause the on-demand video company to look for another network provider. George Ou has taken a contrarian stance against net neutrality advocates, having written articles titled “Another Net Neutrality ‘violation’ Debunked” and “Why Viacom and others justified [sic] in blocking Google TV”.

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