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Sprint accused of 'partitioning internet'

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After a long contractual dispute between the two companies, Sprint-Nextel has severed the net connection it supplies to Cogent Communications, one of the world's largest bandwidth providers. As a result, many Sprint and Cogent customers are unable to communicate.

The way Cogent sees it, Sprint has "partitioned" the internet.

For Cogent, it's deja vu all over again. At one time or another over the past several years, the Washington D.C.-based outfit has fought its way through connection-severing disputes with AOL, fiber-provider Level 3, and Swedish telecom Telia.

"We are fairly aggressive in the industry. We are the second largest carrier of internet traffic, and we have gotten to that position by pricing ourselves much cheaper," Cogent CEO and founder Dave Schaffer tells The Reg. "This creates a lot of animosity with the companies we interconnect with."

In 2006, Sprint and Cogent entered a new "peering" agreement, whereby the two outfits would exchange roughly equal amounts of traffic without actually paying each other. According to Sprint, this was merely a trial agreement and, over the course of the trial, Cogent did not meet its obligations.

"Cogent failed to satisfy the peering criteria that was laid out in the agreement and refused to pay Sprint to stay connected to our network," Sprint spokesman Matthew Sullivan told us.

According to Sullivan, the agreement included a clause stipulating that Cogent was required to pay Sprint a fee if the connections between the two companies did not maintain certain utilization levels (i.e. total traffic streaming through the pipes). "They did not meet these standards," he says. "They refused - across the board - to adhere to the financial terms of the agreement."

Sullivan also says Cogent had ample opportunity to resolve the dispute before its connection was severed: "We gave Cogent significant advance notice that we would discount them unless they paid for the services provided and they continually refused to do that. We were essentially forced to terminate the agreement and disconnect them from our network."

Of course, Cogent sees things differently. According to Schaffer, about a year after the contact was signed, Sprint tried to alter the pact. "We were notified by Sprint that they wished to change the method of measuring utilization," he says. "We protested and explained that this was in violation of the agreement."

He also says that Sprint's characterization of the agreement as a "trial" is misleading. "Every agreement with Sprint is a trial," Schaffer says. "It's kind of like every website is in beta. We did not view this as a trial."

Eventually, the two companies sued each other over the matter, and the case is still pending. Cogent says Sprint shouldn't have pulled the plug before the case played itself out.

In any event, this could cause a net slowdown - and it certainly makes life difficult for certain Sprint and Cogent customers. "While troubleshooting an issue, we learned why our customer couldn't keep his site-to-site VPN going from any location that uses Sprint as its ISP: Sprint has decided not to route traffic to Cogent," an anonymous security analysts tells Slashdot.

"This has a chilling effect; already, this person I worked with cannot communicate between a few sites of his, and since Sprint is stopping the connections cold...it means that there is no backup plan; anyone going to Cogent from a Sprint ISP is crap out of luck."

In an effort to mollify Sprint wireline customers, Cogent is offering a free 100 megabit per second net connection to anyone unable to connect with its backbone - until Sprint puts the plug back in. "Unfortunately, there is no way that Cogent can do the same for the wireless customers of Sprint-Nextel," the company says. ®

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