Jun 09, 2014

What is peering?

When companies like Netflix and Verizon are arguing about peering and who is to blame for poor connection speeds, what exactly are they talking about? What is peering?


"In computer networking, peering is a voluntary interconnection of administratively separate Internet networks for the purpose of exchanging traffic between the users of each network. The pure definition of peering is settlement-free, "bill-and-keep," or "sender keeps all," meaning that neither party pays the other in association with the exchange of traffic; instead, each derives and retains revenue from its own customers.

An agreement by two or more networks to peer is instantiated by a physical interconnection of the networks, an exchange of routing information through the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing protocol and, in one case out of every two hundred agreements, a formalized contractual document.[1]

Marketing pressures have led to the word “peering” sometimes being used to intentionally mislead when there is some settlement involved. In the face of such ambiguity, the phrase "settlement-free peering" is sometimes used to explicitly denote pure cost-free peering."

To put it in the most basic terms, it is connecting two networks to deliver content. To use the Netflix and Verizon example, Netflix sends out its content over its ISP’s network, and pays that network for the bandwidth. Then that network, through a peering agreement, connects to and sends that same data over Verizon’s network to Verizon customers who are paying for the bandwidth they use. The big issue right now is because Netflix is popular and makes up a significant portion of internet traffic, “last miles” ISPs like Verizon want to charge Netflix for peering (even though Verizon customers are already paying to get access to the Netflix data stream), and are refusing to upgrade the hardware that supports the connections to other networks. Keep in mind, while the “last mile” ISPs are crying about how it’s unfair that Netflix should make money off of their networks for “free” they are making HUGE profits. This is the heart of the net neutrality debate, and in my mind it shouldn’t even be a debate. Sometimes there are good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats, and this is a case where companies like Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, et al are wearing very big, very black hats.

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