The government's new net neutrality rules have only been active since Friday, but one company is wasting no time invoking them in a federal complaint against Time Warner Cable — the first one to be filed since the rules went into effect.
The company behind the complaint says it'll submit the paperwork "in the next couple days, tops" and that it plans to accuse Time Warner Cable of charging the San Diego-based firm, Commercial Network Services, unreasonable rates to deliver its streaming videos to Time Warner’s customers.
CNS operates a number of Webcams that stream live video over the Internet. It Web-casts one of the largest Fourth of July fireworks displays on the West Coast, and has amassed a large military audience that logs in from afar whenever its cameras show the comings and goings of U.S. Navy vessels based in San Diego. But TWC's actions are resulting in degraded video quality for those viewers, said CNS chief executive Barry Bahrami.
"This is not traffic we're pushing to Time Warner; this is traffic that their paying Internet access subscribers are asking for from us," said Bahrami, who accused TWC of a "blatant violation" of the FCC's rules.
The agency's regulations establish hard and fast rules against slowing or blocking Web traffic, as well as a ban on content companies paying for speedier service once their traffic enters a provider's network. But by design, they don't say nearly as much about how companies should negotiate the private agreements that ensure Web traffic flows smoothly into an Internet provider's network — and to your home.
Time Warner Cable said in a statement to The Washington Post that it is willing to enter into agreements in which no money changes hands if the content partner exchanges "large amounts of traffic at multiple locations" with TWC around the United States. These deals are known as "settlement-free peering."
"TWC’s interconnection practices are not only 'just and reasonable' as required by the FCC, but consistent with the practices of all major ISPs and well-established industry standards," the company said. "We are confident that the FCC will reject any complaint that is premised on the notion that every edge provider around the globe is entitled to enter into a settlement-free peering arrangement."
In negotiations with CNS last fall, TWC told Bahrami that his company didn't meet TWC's criteria for a settlement-free deal.
That prompted Bahrami to write Jeff Zimmerman, Time Warner Cable's senior vice president and deputy general counsel, arguing that CNS had already struck settlement-free agreements with Google, Microsoft and Cox Communications.
"I do not see how you expect to stand a chance with the regulators," wrote Bahrami in reference to the FCC's rules, according to an e-mail thread he provided to The Post.
In an interview, Bahrami told The Post that he had "always had [the net neutrality rules] on my back burner, waiting for the opportunity" to use them. But it wasn't until they took effect Friday that he had a chance to do so.
Now, it appears, his moment has arrived. Bahrami's complaint asks the FCC for two things: first, a decision by the FCC that Time Warner cable should pass on his viewers' video without charging CNS a fee; and second, he wants the FCC to rule that all Internet providers strike settlement-free deals with Web site operators at what are called "public exchanges" — buildings that house the physical networking equipment of many online businesses.
The FCC declined to comment. It's unclear how the agency will rule on the complaint, in part because the net neutrality rules require the FCC to evaluate such filings on a case-by-case basis. It could very well decide that Time Warner Cable has not violated the rule.
In fact, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in March that he looked forward to getting a net neutrality complaint just so that he can shoot it down. Why? To defuse his critics' biggest argument: That net neutrality will lead to the direct regulation of prices charged by companies such as Time Warner Cable.