Small and medium-sized ISPs could be forced out of business following a decision by UUNet to stop providing them with free access to its backbone.
Until last week, UUNet had allowed smaller ISPs to use its network free of charge under a "peering" agreement. Peering meant that ISPs of similar size would route each other's traffic over their network without charging.
This was based on the assumption that each would handle a similar amount of traffic, balancing out the cost.
However, UUNet has decided that its growth means it is now subsidising the smaller providers. As a result, the company said in future it will only peer with ISPs "that can route traffic on a bilateral and equitable basis".
The policy effectively means that all but the largest companies will qualify for peering, forcing the rest to pay UUNet for the use of its network.
UUNet maintained that the decision would benefit users. "This can only have a beneficial effect on corporate users, who will see a great improvement in the quality of service," claimed Richard Woods, corporate consultant at UUNet in the UK.
Although the effect on ISPs will be felt mainly in the US, UK customers will be affected as routes through the US and the rest of the globe change as a result of the ISP shakeout. "The issue is that the economics of the Internet don't make sense and something has to change," said Adam Daum, an analyst at researcher Inteco. "However, it's not clear how this will shake out in the end, and probably won't be clear until next year," he added.
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