Tuesday, July 03, 2007

East Coast router problem today with news sites: A precursor to network neutrality battles?

Today there was an odd problem on the Internet on the East Coast. I subscribed to Comcast high speed Internet (part of the cable television service). First, I know that in my area Verizon fiber-optical cable may soon be major competition (and I wonder if Verizon will carry the gay Logo channel; haven’t checked yet).

Around 10 AM this morning, I noticed that most news sited (most of all CNN, but also the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Reuters) would hang when I went to browse them. Other sites (like Amazon, IMDB, all of the blogger sites, and my own sites) worked normally. (Yahoo! was not affected.) The problem happened with both Mozilla and Internet Explorer. I tried to laptop, and got the same problem. Sometimes I got DNS errors, sometimes a timeout error. Then I dialed on to AOL through broadband, and found that in the AOL browser slot (which automatically uses IE on my setup), the sites would come up immediately. In other words, AOL has a different routing to these major news organizations, and some component in Comcast’s route was down. I sent an email to CNN technical support (by “dialing in” through AOL) about this. I tried to send an email to Comcast and found its email dialogue script not working properly (no send button).

All of this makes me wonder if there is experimentation going on for preferred services for companies that pay more, or it this is just a conventional router outage. Major news organizations would not want their content held up in any market-driven plan that gives bigger fish faster access to the Net, however. Nor would they want home users to have problems getting it.

Still, from network architecture and third-party networking companies used by ISPs and content providers, there would be plenty of opportunity to tweak delivery of content to willingness to pay prime rates. I’m not sure how this affects the big guys who got started in a era where “network neutrality” was legally driven.

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