Why YouTube Buffers: The Secret Deals That Make—and Break—Online Video
The negotiations can lead to brinksmanship and bad blood. Recent public examples of such spats include:
November 2010: After Internet backbone provider Level 3 signs a deal with Netflix to distribute video, Comcast demands money from Level 3 for carrying traffic over the proverbial “last mile” to Comcast subscribers.
January 2011: European ISPs Deutsche Telekom, Orange (formerly France Telecom), Telecom Italia, and Telefónica commission a report saying companies like Netflix and Google’s YouTube service should give ISPs a lot more money.
August 2011: Cogent, another Internet backbone provider that handles Netflix traffic, files a complaint in France against Orange, saying the ISP is providing inadequate connection speeds.
January 2013: Free, a French ISP, is accused of slowing down YouTube traffic by failing to upgrade infrastructure (but is later cleared of intentionally degrading YouTube traffic by the French regulator). Free also temporarily blocks ads on YouTube and other video services by sending an update to its modems.
January 2013: Orange and Google have a similar dispute, with Orange CEO Stephane Richard claiming victory. He says that Google is paying Orange to compensate the operator for mobile traffic sent from Google servers.
January 2013: Time Warner refuses Netflix’s offer of a free caching service that would provide better performance to Netflix users on Time Warner’s network.
June 2013: Cogent accuses Verizon of allowing “ports” between the two providers to fill up, degrading Netflix performance for Verizon customers.
July 2013: The European Commission opens an antitrust probe into whether ISPs abused market positions in negotiations with content providers, and it searches the offices of Orange, Deutsche Telekom, and Telefónica. Separately, the French government demands details of interconnection agreements involving AT&T and Verizon.
In the most extreme cases, large Internet companies stop passing traffic to one another entirely. (This happened in 2005 with France Telecom and Cogent, in 2005 with Cogent and Level 3, and in 2008 with Sprint and Cogent.) But recent disputes have been less likely to lead to a complete severing of ties. “That type of reaction to a policy is becoming less common, possibly because it’s so easy to publicize it,” Reggie Forster, director of network engineering at XO Communications, told Ars. “They tend to want to keep that quiet.”