Level 3, Cogent resolve peering dispute, renew deal

Connections between them cannot be severed without notifying customers first

Two feuding top-tier Internet service providers said today that they have struck a deal to renew their traffic exchange agreement to avoid a repeat of the showdown that blacked out connections between their customers earlier this month (see "ISP spat blacks out Net connections").

Level 3 Communications Inc. and Cogent Communications Inc. have agreed on what they called a "modified" version of their original peering arrangement, which enabled the two providers to directly connect their networks and exchange Internet traffic across them without charge. In early October, Level 3 discontinued its peering arrangement with Cogent. Neither side warned its customers in advance about the looming disconnection, which left many customers scrambling to make alternative arrangements after parts of the Internet abruptly went dark for them.

Three days into the standoff, Level 3 backed down and restored its peering connection to Cogent. However, it called the move a temporary one and said it would once again terminate the arrangement on Nov. 9.

Friday's deal removes that deadline and puts in place an agreement that the two companies say will keep traffic across their networks flowing smoothly. The deal includes commitments from each party about the characteristics and volume of traffic to be traded, according to a statement. Level 3, based in Broomfield, Colo., pulled the plug on the earlier arrangement after deciding it was carrying the bulk of the load in the traffic exchange.

Most significantly for customers, the new deal specifies that peering connections between Level 3 and Cogent cannot be terminated without advance notice to their customers. A representative of Level 3 was not immediately available for comment, but Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer called the deal a good one for the carriers.

"What we worked very hard on is making sure we protect customers," Schaeffer said. "There is a mandatory requirement for the companies to remain connected to one another and to notify the customers with ample notice about changes."

Peering skirmishes aren't uncommon among Internet service providers, and Washington-based Cogent has been "depeered" before by other providers. But the outage earlier this month was significant in its scope: Customers and industry analysts were shocked that two tier-one Internet backbones would essentially play chicken with traffic between their networks.

Cogent defiantly maintains it did no wrong, since it wasn't the one responsible for deciding to let traffic drop. "It was a very confusing situation for us," Schaeffer said.

Last week, following Level 3's quarterly earnings announcement, Level 3 President and CEO Kevin O'Hara acknowledged in a conference call with analysts that the situation could have been handled more gracefully.

"During the quarter, we modified the nature of a number of relationships with the goal of making sure that the agreement remained equitable to both sides. We remain committed to that goal. In one instance this quarter, a number of Level 3 customers and Cogent customers were hurt as we pursued this strategy. I apologize to both sets of customers," O'Hara said. "We recognize that we have an obligation to customers of the Internet, and in this instance, we contributed to letting them down."

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