Net backbone outage fixed, for now

Feuding companies restore Net data services, along with access to e-mail and Web sites, but only for a month.

A three-day dispute between large Internet network backbone companies came to a quiet end on Friday, restoring normal Net service to thousands of customers who had Web sites and e-mails sporadically blocked.

Level 3 Communications, which had cut off a direct connection between its network and that of rival Cogent Communications on Wednesday morning, restored normal service late Friday afternoon.

But the decision was temporary, made to let Cogent and customers find alternative arrangements, Level 3 said. The link between the two networks will be cut again at 6 a.m. EST, Nov. 9, unless Cogent agrees to pay for the connection.

"As has always been the case, we are willing to work with Cogent to reach a contractual arrangement that is equitable to both parties," Level 3 Executive Vice President Sureel Choksi said in a statement. "If this is not possible, we expect that Cogent will make arrangements with one of the numerous alternative carriers currently offering such services."

The situation stems from the breakdown in a so-called peering arrangement, in which companies of similar sizes agree to exchange data traffic across their networks without compensation.

Level 3 contends that it is larger than Cogent, and so a free peering relationship is no longer appropriate. It has asked Cogent to start paying for the connection, but Cogent has so far refused, saying that it is of comparable size to Level 3.

Because both companies rely heavily on direct connections, there was no alternate route for data to travel between the networks when the link was cut. That meant that customers on Level 3's network could not visit Web sites or send e-mail to people on Cogent's network. Thousands of people, including Time Warner's Road Runner cable modem customer base, were affected.

Cogent released a terse statement Friday, saying that it had only had time for short technical dialogue with the other company.

"We are pleased that Level 3 has taken the necessary actions to restore the full Internet to their customers and ours," a Cogent spokesman said. "We welcome this move, and hope and expect the peering connections will be maintained."

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