A group of more than a dozen Internet service providers, including Whole Earth Networks, has fought a UUNet plan to possibly charge them fees or terminate altogether agreements that help connect them to the Net.
Whole Earth Networks' settlement leaves the many other ISPs UUNet threatens to cut off still wondering.
UUNet argues that the cutoff, planned for this summer, is justified to help pay costs for providing a Net backbone. But the ISPs fear the move might force them to pass along the costs to customers or go out of business.
"We are delighted to continue the relationship with UUNet that we have been developing over the past four years," said Bruce Katz, chairman of Whole Earth Network in a statement. The companies stressed that Whole Earth Networks is one of the largest ISPs in California.
The dispute highlights the changing nature of the Net, moving from a cooperative venture to a moneymaking one devoid of government subsidies. "The Internet has become a real money-based business," said one ISP executive. "It started as a cooperative network and used to be more community-oriented."
He said it was inevitable that more of these charges be levied as giant telcos, such as UUNet's parent WorldCom, get into the business. "People didn't like it when they started charging for domain names, either. That was free, too."
Some ISPs are considering taking UUNet to court. "We're looking at legal action," said Nathan Stratton, president of NetRail.
Stratton says he heard about 15 to 20 ISPs are affected. He received an email from UUNet saying he would soon be dropped all together from the so-called peering agreement, which governs interconnection of traffic at points on the Net.
"I'm dead in the water," Stratton added. His options, he said, are to "go bankrupt" or "buy access from another provider."
A memo sent to another ISP from UUNet last month read: "As a result of a recent operational audit, UUNet has determined to reduce the number of its peering relationships. Accordingly, UUNet intends to stop peering with you at MAE-West [an Internet hub]. We realize this may cause some modification to your network plans, and would like to cease peering 90 days from now, or June 3 1997. We'd like to work with you to make this transition as smooth as possible."
Stratton said he heard from another ISP, Whole Earth Networks, that UUNet had proposed charging for an Internet connection that currently was free. But "UUNet has not backed up that claim. They said in the future they may charge," he said.
But "UUNet has not backed up that claim. They said in the future they may charge," he said.
UUNet and Sprint (FON) are planning to stop connecting their Net backbones to the Commercial Internet Exchange, said CIX executive director Barbara Dooley. That would be another step toward cutting out no-fee access to the Net. Dooley said they would remain CIX members, though.
The fight focuses on so-called peer agreements, which regulate the flow of traffic between ISPs at connection points on the network.
ISPs typically hand off traffic to each other. But if there's an imbalance, one company might pay fees to another as compensation.
Smaller ISPs typically get stuck with the charges, if there are any. Companies such as UUNet have networks that reach hundreds of cities.
The practice is regulated among phone carriers, but not yet among Internet providers because the industry is so new. The Federal Communications Commission has said it will look into the matter.
Whole Earth Networks plans to take its case to the California Public Utilities Commission next week. Whole Earth Networks is based in California.
Executives at Whole Earth Networks, UUNet, and other parties declined comment, citing the confidentiality of such agreements.