level3Peering connections between Level 3 Communications and six broadband service providers are permanently congested because the broadband providers refuse to increase router capacity, said Level 3 Vice President of Content and Media Mark Taylor in a blog post yesterday. Five of these six companies are U.S.-based, Taylor said.

“Our policy is to refuse to pay arbitrary charges to add interconnection capacity,” wrote Taylor.

Level 3 peering dispute
Taylor didn’t elaborate on why Level 3 was being asked to pay “arbitrary charges,” but it apparently relates to peering disputes. Companies such as Comcast and Verizon reportedly have been reluctant to increase the capacity of the ports through which they exchange traffic with content providers or certain network operators such as Level 3 that carry traffic for content providers. The broadband providers say they receive more traffic from those companies than they send to them and want to be compensated. The “arbitrary charges” that Level 3 won’t pay most likely comprise the compensation that the broadband providers are demanding.

The six broadband providers with the permanently congested connections to Level 3 are “deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers,” Taylor said.

He cited the example of a specific interconnection in Dallas which, for most of each day during a recent week, was unable to accept all of the traffic that was trying to get through.

“Not only are packets being dropped,” he said. “All those not being dropped are… subject to delay.”

A lack of competition
Taylor argues that customers of the six broadband providers have to tolerate poor performance because there is little competition for broadband service. “In countries or markets where consumers have multiple broadband choices (like the UK) there are no congested peers,” he said.

Taylor also noted that the U.S. companies with the poor peering connections to Level 3 rank “dead last” in customer satisfaction across all industries in the U.S.

That assertion comes from research conducted quarterly by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. Taylor doesn’t specify which quarter the company pulled its ranking from. But when Telecompetitor covered the first quarter 2013 rankings a year ago, the worst performing broadband service providers included three major cable companies and two major telcos. At that time the overall satisfaction score for Internet service providers was 65 on a 100-point scale – the same figure Taylor references in his post.

Behind the curtain
While details about peering traditionally have been closely guarded, Taylor revealed quite a few specifics in his blog post, including:

  • Level 3 has 51 peers worldwide which, together, enable the company to connect its customers to any Internet address in the world. All but three of these relationships are settlement-free.
  • The company connects with peers in 45 cities using more than 1,360 10 Gbps Ethernet ports.
  • The average number of interconnection cities per peer is five, but ranges from one to 20.

One piece of information that Level 3 did not share, however, was how much traffic it sends to the broadband providers in comparison with what it receives from them. Level 3 at one time provided connectivity for Netflix, which inherently sends more traffic to other networks than it receives from them. Netflix now has created its own content delivery network and relies less on companies like Level 3. Nevertheless Level 3 still has a content delivery business and may still have a traffic imbalance with the broadband providers.

We also don’t know if the broadband providers have these issues with other peers or only with Level 3. The broadband providers may see more balanced traffic levels to and from some other peers, making them more willing to upgrade interconnection speeds. And where there is a traffic imbalance, some peers may be more willing than Level 3 to pay settlement charges.