updated 03:51 pm EDT, Sun August 3, 2014
Agency asks for interconnection agreements for understanding, regulation depends on discovery
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is looking into six additional Internet service providers (ISP) and content providers over interconnecting and peering agreements, according to reports. An official spoke to Ars Technica after it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information on the Netflix peering deals with Verizon and Comcast. The news comes after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced in June that the agency would be investigating such agreements.
In a statement from Wheeler on June 13, he requested the FCC to look into interconnecting arrangements in order to understand what these peering agreements are doing, and if they have an effect on consumers. Noting that consumers pay ISPs and content providers for a service, the commission wants to ensure that customers on each end are getting what they pay for.
"To be clear, what we are doing right now is collection information, not regulating," said Wheeler. "We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I."
The FCC official reiterated that the investigation into peering arrangements, including the six new companies which the organization didn't name, was only for information purposes. Additionally, the requests that the FCC is making from these business are done on a voluntary basis, with no force being used or rules in place that would require the companies to turn anything over.
However, that doesn't rule out the possibility that the requests could evolve into a regulation battle. The official added that any steps in the future would "depend on what the attorneys and engineers find as a result of the information gathering." For the time being, the FCC only wants to gain knowledge on interconnecting and deals like those between Netflix and ISPs, as these issues weren't something it accounted for in the past.
The initial FOIA sought information on the Netflix deals, but Comcast, Verizon and Netflix stated the information within the agreements was a breach of confidentiality or a trade secret. In the FCC response to the request, Comcast argued that disclosure of the agreement would give competitors access to information they wouldn't otherwise be able to obtain. Netflix and Verizon took the stance that the agreements were trade secrets, therefore exempt from FOIA requests. The requests were denied by the FCC, as the agency agreed with the reasoning.