One of America's largest Internet backbone providers, Level 3 Communications, claims that five U.S. Internet service providers (ISPs) and one European ISP are intentionally slowing down the Internet. Level 3 claims the companies are doing this in order to force the creation of more expensive peering agreements with content providers and Tier 1 service providers.

In a blog post, Level 3's Vice President of Content Mark Taylor argues that six of its consumer broadband peers have intentionally allowed congestion to build up in ports. When congestion is an issue, the broadband provider will not be as fast and packets will consistently be dropped. Even though there is nothing wrong with this, Taylor said those six peers are not doing anything to fix the issue.

Perfect Timing

Level 3's blog post comes just a few days after Netflix signed yet another expensive peering agreement with Verizon so that it could boost performance. As we saw in April, Netflix was able to increase the average speed of its subscribers' streams by paying off Comcast. According to Level 3, the ISPs want these agreements to become even more common.

By degrading the quality of Internet services, Level 3 says that the ISPs are looking to receive additional money from Tier 1 providers. However, Level 3 is refusing to pay those fees, meaning that consumers are the ones who will ultimately lose out.

"Our policy is to refuse to pay arbitrary charges to add interconnection capacity," Taylor said.

Rather than this being a case of neither company wanting to pay for an increase in interconnection capacity, Level 3 claims that the ISPs are intentionally limiting that capacity. The deal between Netflix and Comcast seems to be a perfect example of this, as once the peering agreement was signed, Netflix speeds immediately improved.

Making Changes

The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of determining what sort of regulation should be applied to the telecommunications industry. With additional concerns being brought to the table by Level 3, there are new dynamics that the FCC must consider. However, members of the industry argue that significant regulation should not be applied.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told us that since the slowing down of the Internet affects consumers, the FCC may have a role to play, but it would likely prefer to have the parties settle the dispute by themselves.

"Though the throttling of network Relevant Products/Services performance is aimed at content providers, consumers are also being injured by these activities, which could spark government interest or FCC intervention." King said.

Actual intervention by the FCC is not likely according to King, but it is possible that outrage among consumers could become a force for change.

"If that happens, all bets are off and we could see what amounts to a sea change in the FCC's attitude toward Net neutrality," King said.