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A two-sided model of paid peering


Internet users have suffered collateral damage in tussles over paid peering between large ISPs and large content providers. Paid peering is a relationship where two networks exchange traffic with payment, which provides direct access to each other's customers without having to pay a third party to carry that traffic for them. The issue will arise again when the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers a new net neutrality order. We first consider the effect of paid peering on broadband prices. We adopt a two-sided market model in which an ISP maximizes profit by setting broadband prices and a paid peering price. We analytically derive the profit-maximizing prices, and show that they satisfy a generalization of the well-known Lerner rule. Our result shows that paid peering fees reduce the premium plan price, increase the video streaming price and the total price for premium tier customers who subscribe to video streaming services; however, the ISP passes on to its customers only a portion of the revenue from paid peering. ISP profit increases but video streaming profit decreases as an ISP moves from settlement-free peering to paid peering price. We next consider the effect of paid peering on consumer surplus. We find that consumer surplus is a uni-modal function of the paid peering fee. The paid peering fee that maximizes consumer surplus depends on elasticities of demand for broadband and for video streaming. However, consumer surplus is maximized when paid peering fees are significantly lower than those that maximize ISP profit. However, it does not follow that settlement-free peering is always the policy that maximizes consumer surplus. The peering price depends critically on the incremental ISP cost per video streaming subscriber; at different costs, it can be negative, zero, or positive.

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