Some consumers feeling the impact of a spat between two major Internet network operators are asking for government intervention, but so far theres no substantive move by lawmakers or utility regulators to step into the fray.
As significant numbers of businesses and consumers found out in the last few days, Level 3 Communications, a major Internet network operator, refuses to make room for traffic from rival Cogent because of an ongoing dispute about financial arrangements.
The nasty turn has disrupted Internet service for between five and 10 of Cogents customers, Cogent estimates.
The subsequent customer outcry gives new life to an old question concerning the necessity of the U.S. government to regulate traffic-swapping arrangements between major communications providers.
These agreements, as the experiences of the last few days shows, are so key that they can bring Internet traffic to a halt for significant amounts of people.
Critics fear that more of these spats between operators will erupt, cutting off even more people. Such spats also bolster arguments from a number of European governments that are calling for the United States to relinquish its unilateral control over Internet governance, in favor of a new body. The United States opposes the changes.
In the days since the spat became public, U.S. Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) has suggested the Federal Communications Commission, the nations utility regulator, consider stepping into the fray if the infighting between providers goes on.
Markey, a House Telecommunications Subcommittee member, told The Boston Globe that the "FCC must be prepared to take steps to assure continuity of service to consumers."
An FCC representative did not return a call seeking comment.
Consumers feeling the effects—which have cut some off from major swaths of the Internet—are seeking a long-term fix, rather than having the FCC step in to act as negotiator, as Markey seems to suggest.
"The government should fine both companies for interfering with business communications," writes commentator "Unhappy" in the Hardwaregeeks.com online community forum.
At least some kind of advanced notice is needed so customers could start scrambling, writes "DrewWash," another Hardwaregeeks.com contributor.
The writer suggests federal oversight "at least to the point where we would have been put on notice. We just woke up and boom, it isnt business as normal."
Any current efforts to bring government oversight to peering agreements would meet with a pitched battle from the network owners, which argue regulations are both unnecessary and detrimental.
In the past, private contract disputes that got ugly prompted a similar outcry for regulatory oversight. But, as in the case of a 2001 spat between U.K.-based operator Cable & Wireless and global provider PSINet, customer complaints forced cooler heads to prevail before regulators stepped in.
Representatives from both companies did not return calls seeking comment.