Dispute threatens to snarl Internet [pdf]
On Wednesday, the Internet service provider Level 3 Communications Inc. of Broomfield, Colo., broke its connections with a major competitor, Cogent Communications Group Inc. of Washington, D.C., effectively throwing up roadblocks for some e-mail communication and access to websites. Level 3, which provides Internet services to major companies like Cox Communications and America Online, essentially stopped allowing its customers to connect with those of Cogent, which has 9,500 customers around the world. Cogent provides Internet services to a number of local universities, including Harvard, Boston College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Although the scale of the disruption is unclear, the incident may offer more fodder for those who believe the Internet should be regulated by an international agency, such as the United Nations. Scientists in the United States invented the Internet, and the computers that oversee the network are still controlled by the US Department of Commerce, which favors a hands-off approach. But governments worldwide have launched a campaign to put the Internet under international control. American officials have resisted the idea, saying that UN oversight would introduce undue government interference and the threat of data censorship by authoritarian states like China.
CNet’s Blackout shows Net’s fragility
In theory, this kind of blackout is precisely the kind of problem the Internet was designed to withstand. The complicated, interlocking nature of networks means that data traffic is supposed to be able to find an alternate route to its destination, even if a critical link is broken.
In practice, obscure contract disputes between the big network companies can make all these redundancies moot.
At issue is a type of network connection called “peering.” Most of the biggest network companies, such as AT&T, Sprint and MCI, as well as companies including Cogent and Level 3, strike “peering agreements” in which they agree to establish direct connections between their networks.
[...] These collegial peering relationships among big companies allow traffic to flow efficiently across the Net without most customers knowing anything about the under-the-hood relationships. But when these relationships go sour, the feuding parties’ lack of flexibility can result in blackouts like the one that occurred this week.
In this case, Level 3 says that it believes it is substantially larger than its rival, and told Cogent as long as 90 days ago that it was planning to sever the direct connection between the two networks. The connection could be re-established if Cogent were to pay Level 3 access fees for use of its network, the company says.
For its part, Cogent contends that it is similar in size to Level 3, and that it makes no sense to pay for the kind of peering relationship that it maintains with many other companies. Cogent is offering any Level 3 user who can’t get to Cogent sites free Internet service for a year, in an attempt to attract its rival’s customers.
Also ZDNet’s Network feud leads to Net blackout
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