Carriers’ spat ‘splits’ Internet for customers

NEW YORK – President Bush once famously spoke of “the Internets” in 2004. Well, they’re here.

Since March 13, customers of two large Internet service providers, Cogent Communications Group Inc. and TeliaSonera AB, are unable to contact each other through the Internet, unless they have backup connections from other companies.

This means, for instance, that some U.S. Web sites hosted by Cogent customers are inaccessible to surfers in the Nordic countries, where Sweden-based TeliaSonera is the largest telecommunications operator. It’s like Cogent and TeliaSonera customers are on different Internets.

“Basically, parts of the Internet can’t talk to each other,” said Earl Zmijewski, general manager of the Internet data division at Renesys Corp., which keeps track of how carriers route traffic over the Internet.

It’s not the first time this has happened: Now and then, Internet companies indulge in what Zmijewski calls playing “chicken.” If they’re fighting over a contract, they disconnect each other, and wait to see who blinks first. The number of irate customers each company faces will probably determine who does.

David Schaeffer, chief executive of Washington-based Cogent, said the two companies had a “peering” contract, under which they exchanged traffic from each other’s customers, with neither company paying the other for access. But TeliaSonera continuously breached the terms of the contract by not exchanging traffic in certain locations, and refusing to upgrade connections that were saturated, Schaeffer said.

That forced Cogent traffic to take long detours, according to Schaeffer. For instance, it sometimes had to carry data from a Cogent customer in Europe across the Atlantic to the U.S., then hand it over to TeliaSonera, which carried it back across the Atlantic to its European destination.

Cogent cut its direct links to TeliaSonera on March 13. For a while, customers of the two companies were still able to connect indirectly, through intermediaries connected to Cogent and TeliaSonera, but that possibility disappeared on Friday, according to Renesys.

Schaeffer said the loss of alternate routes had nothing to do with Cogent, and speculated that TeliaSonera has refused to pay other providers for traffic destined for Cogent. TeliaSonera did not comment on that allegation.

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