After customers of several French internet providers complained about having problems watching online content on Google’s YouTube, France’s regulator decided to open an investigation in order to decide whether the ISPs are blocking the video service on purpose or not.
At the time being, ARCEP is scrutinizing both the ISPs’ financial and technical conditions and the online content services in order to determine if there’s a problem in their infrastructure.
Moreover, the French regulator had also targeted three other companies (their names remain undisclosed), as it’s believed that internet providers are either not putting money into their infrastructure or simply violate network neutrality.
The investigation was opened on November the 22th, following the complaints of more than 16.000 customers (83% of them being subscribed to Free, 47% to Orange, and 46% to SFR) about low speeds when watching content on YouTube. Also, three French senators asked the country’s digital economy minister to look into the problem.
The connection issues, however, are not limited to Google’s YouTube.
“The quality of connection is inadequate in almost all operators,” said UFC Que Choisir’s survey.
The question that comes into UFC Que Choisir’s mind is whether these problems are caused by a poor infrastructure or if it’s a method to make content services pay more. The latter is most likely since there’s a precedent.
By that we mean that Cogent, the company responsible with YouTube’s peering interconnections and one of the largest internet providers, complained (to the Autorité De La Concurrence) that Orange refused its connections, as the provider needs more money in order to provide with the necessary ports to direct Cogent’s traffic.
As a response, the competition regulator said that the ISP (in this case Orange) is entitled to charge more money. The government’s involvement in this matter came as a surprise, since most of the interconnections between major internet providers, CDNs and web content companies are negotiated by private deals.
On the other hand, internet providers argue that Google and similar companies are making money off the sweat of internet providers. Google, along with other companies, replied that facts are exactly the opposite – content providers are the main reason for customers to upgrade their broadband subscriptions, thus bringing revenues to internet providers.
ISPs’ argument sounds plausible to the Autorité De La Concurrence, as the regulator said that France Telecom is providing with lower interconnection prices than the market value.
The issue is a delicate one, as internet providers are concerned about their revenues, saying that delivering broadband speeds costs more money. They’re also worried about losing their pay TV subscribers, since there’s an increasing demand for online video content.
The outcome could have significant repercussions within and beyond France’s borders. On one hand, Google could be forced (through commercial agreements and a potential new legislation) to pay extra, in some parts of Europe, for their right to post news from other sources. On the other, the broadband outcome could set a precedent for other telecommunication regulators who are currently facing the same problem(s).
Last but not least, there’s also the issue of governmental involvement and regulations which could allow this institution to decide who can connect to whom and how much will it cost.
In that sense, the OECD warned about the repercussions of such an involvement, saying that it could upset the economic balance of companies which rely on the Internet.
“As incumbent networks adopt IP technology, there is a risk of conflict between legacy pricing and regulatory models and the more efficient internet model of traffic exchange. By drawing a “bright line” between the two models, regulatory authorities can ensure that the inefficiencies of traditional voice markets will not take hold on the internet… That these “rules of the game” are so ubiquitous and serviceable indicates a degree of public unanimity that an external regulator would be hard-pressed to create. The parties to these agreements include not only internet backbone, access, and content distribution networks, but also universities, NGOs, branches of government, individuals, businesses and enterprises of all sorts—a universality of the constituents of the internet that extends far beyond the reach of any regulatory body’s influence,” reads their report.
ARCEP’s decision will come early this year.