Internet Split?

I’m sure some of us from the golden days of IRC remember netsplits. Well, today we are experiencing an Internet Split.

According to this article on Slashdot, two Tier 1 ISPs, Cogent Communications and Level 3, have cut their peering arrangement. Confused? It works like this. There are a handful of big “Tier 1,” or “Top Tier” ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that provide the major connectivity for the country, and – pretty much – the Internet. All other ISPs pay for connectivity on the Tier 1 networks. Until recently, all of these Tier 1 networks were interconnected to each other in various ways. Yesterday, Cogent Communications and Level 3 (two of the largest Tier 1 providers) cut their peering agreement. (Still confused? The linked article contains links to explanatory pages.)

How does this apply to Houston? Bear with me for just a second, and I’ll explain.

I’m sure you’ve experienced times when a site, or handful of sites, weren’t reachable? Normally, that’s when the Internet routing gets messed up, and for some reason you can’t get beyond a certain point. Well, that’s happening in a BIG way to Houston, right now. Time Warner, the largest home broadband provider in Houston, is connected primarily through Level 3. Because of this little spat between Cogent and Level 3, anyone who is “homed” (or primarily connected through) Level 3 cannot access sites who are homed through Cogent, and vice-versa. Since Time Warner’s Roadrunner service is homed, primarily, through Level 3, there’s a whole slew of sites that their customers will not be able to access.

Think of it like this. Think of the Internet as a huge pie. Cogent is on the left half, Level 3 on the right half. Now chop the pie in half, down the middle. Now, all the computers and Internet Providers that are accessing the Internet are floating out there in space. Imagine each computer/provider with a line drawn and connecting to the Internet for each of its “homes.” If a computer is single-homed to Level 3 (one line, going only to Level 3), or all of its “homes” go through Level 3, their customers will be unable to access sites that are homed only to Cogent. Yeah.

I’m already experiencing the bite, being unable to access a favourite game, and Cogent’s site, for starters. I’m sure there are more that I can’t get to, but then again, I haven’t surfed much, today. Time will tell.

Speaking of time, noone knows exactly how long this spat will go on. Apparently a long time, as Cogent is offering people who are connected through Level 3, a free year of connection through them. Personally, I say get over yourselves. Either that, or get some sort of regulating in effect.

What will eventually happen? Well, for a good while, we’ll probably have to deal with this mess. In the end, though, some other Level 1 ISP (like AOL, or Sprint-Nextel, etc…) will likely make a peering agreement (in other words, a connect-through agreement) with both Level 3 and Cogent. It’ll mean slightly slower access to some sites, but it shouldn’t be terribly noticeable. It may be a while before that happens, though.

Isn’t it wonderful how petty politics can affect millions in an instant? Take heart, though, Houston… this’ll all be over, eventually.

4 Comments so far

  1. katya (unregistered) on October 6th, 2005 @ 12:03 pm

    I guess I’ve lucked out and haven’t experienced any inability to access websites yet (thank the lawd, I’d probably have a twitchy nervous breakdown if I couldn’t access the things I needed/wanted to). As a web designer/marketer, that totally bugs me on another level. Someone needs a good kick in the pants methinks.

  2. Governor (unregistered) on October 6th, 2005 @ 4:15 pm

    Fuck… like… what did all that mean? All I want to know is if I can still watch my NASCAR and porno stuff on the ‘puter and stuff.

  3. Fyre (unregistered) on October 7th, 2005 @ 1:22 am

    Basically it’s like this..
    If your internet goes only through network A, and the website you want to access goes only through network B, then you won’t be able to access it.

    You should be able to still access NASCAR, as it should be a multi-homed site (connected to both network A and B)… dunno about the porno.

  4. Fyre (unregistered) on November 11th, 2005 @ 7:53 pm

    uhm.. okay, Betsy…
    that made about as much sense as a blind man teaching a child their colors.

    Messed-up spam?

    (and yes, that is crazy)

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