Strike one – First net neutrality gripe against an ISP is nixed by FCC

Webcam biz told to duke it out with Time Warner Cable directly

What is believed to be the first complaint that a telco is breaking America's new net neutrality rules has been rejected.

The CEO of Commercial Network Services, Barry Bahrami, tried to use the US Federal Communications Commission's "informal" complaints procedure to ask the regulator to look into Time Warner Cable's peering arrangements in San Diego. The FCC rejected the grumble.

Bahrami claimed that one of the services his company provides – a free webcam service – is being impacted by Time Warner's refusal to grant it free peering.

"I am writing to initiate an informal complaint against Time Warner Cable (TWC) for violating the 'No Paid Prioritization' and 'No Throttling' sections of the new net neutrality rules," wrote Bahrami [PDF].

Time Warner was failing "to fulfill their obligations to their BIAS consumers by opting to exchange Internet traffic over higher latency (and often more congested) transit routes instead of directly to the edge provider ... unless a payment is made to TWC by the edge provider."

In other words, Time Warner wants payment to provide a high-bandwidth, low-latency service.

While such a complaint may seem reasonable on the face of it, the net neutrality rules were never intended as a way to force ISPs to provide companies with free peering. In fact, one of the arguments made against the rules by ISPs was that the rules would encourage claims just like this one. Additionally, the FCC made it clear that it was unlikely to hear peering complaints when it opened up its new complaints process, with FCC chair Tom Wheeler telling Congress in July that "it is not our intention" to extend its jurisdiction over edge providers.

It's not surprising then that the FCC rejected the complaint. But the manner in which it did so clearly needs work.

Bahrami forwarded the note he received from the FCC's ticketing system to Multichannel News this week. It read:

The goal of the FCC's informal complaint process is to make it easy for consumers to file complaints about telecommunications services and for service providers to address those complaints ... In this instance, however, we regret that you were not satisfied with attempts by FCC staff to facilitate a more satisfactory resolution of the underlying issue. At this point, you might want to contact the company directly to see if you and the company can arrive at a resolution that is more acceptable to you. You will receive no further status on your complaint from FCC staff.

That response may be a stock response however, as Bahrami claims that there were no "attempts by FCC staff to facilitate a more satisfactory resolution." He made the complaint, it opened a ticket, and the FCC simply closed the ticket with its response.

That is a rookie error on the FCC's part and demonstrates its almost complete lack of experience in handling complaints from anything but big company lawyers. Bahrami said he was unhappy with the response. "I could not help but feel let down in a big way," he told Multichannel News, and so he intends to escalate it to a formal complaint (which as any company will tell you is why you handle all complaints with sensitivity).

Time Warner Cable, for its part, is already ahead of the curve, conscious that it doesn't want to become the first FCC scalp over net neutrality rules. It put out a statement shortly after hearing about the complaint.

Time Warner Cable enters into settlement-free peering arrangements with network operators that exchange large amounts of traffic at multiple locations and where there is a mutual exchange of value. Under TWC's longstanding and industry-standard peering policy, Commercial Network Services does not qualify for 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. 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.

So, an opportunity for the FCC to test out (and hopefully improve) its complaints system and forestall industry fears about the Open Internet Order. As for everyone else, it's a case of: nothing to see here, move along, move along. ®

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