French Minister Thinks Netflix Needs To Pay ISPs A 'Bandwidth Tax' To 'Level The Playing Field'

from the ain't-gonna-ride-our-pipes-for-free dept

If you’ve followed the net neutrality discussion here in the U.S. since the beginning, you’ll recall the debate began in earnest back in 2005 when then AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre declared that Google should pay an extra, arbitrary toll simply for using the AT&T network. By Whitacre’s government-pampered, duopolist logic, any content company that so much as touches an ISP’s network should pay a levy to offset infrastructure costs — well — just because. Soon, a seemingly endless array of hired telco flacks started telling anybody who’d listen that content companies were getting a “free ride” and really needed to start paying their “fair share.”

As we’ve repeatedly explained (perhaps unnecessarily if you have anything resembling critical thinking skills), this reasoning is incoherent and stupid, since customers and content companies alike already pay plenty for bandwidth and infrastructure. Still, somehow Whitacre’s absurd attempt to try and offload network operation costs to others went viral globally, and we’ve repeatedly seen overseas telcos trying to argue the same point ever since. Of course, whereas Google used to be the global telco whipping boy, we’re increasingly seeing Netflix playing that role given its more vocal support of net neutrality.

It’s the painfully dumb idea that just won’t die. French Minister of Culture and Communication Fleur Pellerin has spent the last few years with an incumbent telco bug in her ear, demanding that she force Google, Netflix and other content companies to pay some kind of a “bandwidth tax.” As we’ve seen here in the States, Google appeared willing to (at least temporarily) go mute on net neutrality, and as Glyn has noted previously, Google France appeared willing to trample neutrality principles, allowing some degree of ISP double dipping to protect mobile handset market share.

Apparently feeling encouraged, Pellerin has ramped up her efforts for this new content company tax in order to “level the playing field” for French TV and filmmakers (read: incumbent French phone company Orange):

“France’s culture minister is as keen as ever to tax tech behemoths to “level the playing field” for French TV and filmmakers. According to news reports, Fleur Pellerin plans to introduce a new tax on “the use of bandwidth”, although exactly how this will be calculated is not clear…In January, the minister said she wanted a “level playing field “for French broadcasters alongside the likes of Netflix. The news was welcomed by some ISPs who want to offer so-called specialised services ? basically incorporating lots more speed and bandwidth.”

As a general rule of thumb, I’ve found that almost anytime somebody claims to be interested in “leveling the playing field,” they’re usually busy trying to do the exact opposite. There’s still no details on precisely how Pellerin’s plan would work, but it’s likely going to run face-first into the EU’s looming net neutrality rules, which, if they’re worth anything, will at the very least ban these kinds of ridiculous “troll tolls.” Here in the States, most phone companies have been forced to shift their attention from ham-fisted troll tolls to more subtle, clever ways of abusing market power, whether that’s interconnection, usage caps or zero rated apps.

Still, Ed Whitacre’s viral meme that phone companies have the inherent, god-given right to double or triple dip is the gift that just keeps on giving.

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Companies: google, netflix, orange

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Comments on “French Minister Thinks Netflix Needs To Pay ISPs A 'Bandwidth Tax' To 'Level The Playing Field'”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

If they don't want your product, make 'em pay for it anyway

If the french broadcasters are losing viewers to services such as Netflix, then the proper response is to offer better shows and deals.

Going the legal, ‘force the competition to pay us’ route is them basically admitting that they either don’t care to compete, or know that they couldn’t, and feel like buying the laws such that they don’t have to.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: If they don't want your product, make 'em pay for it anyway

Many people upgraded their connections because of Netflix so maybe the ISPs want to pay a tax to thank Netflix too?

Also, Netflix couls agree to the demands as long as the ISPs offer speeds that will allow at least 4 devices to watch 4k content in a single household simultaneously. This will guarantee such tax will only be paid in the next millennium.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If they don't want your product, make 'em pay for it anyway

Wasn’t not long ago that the content mafia wanted the ISP to pay them a percentage or tax, as they (the content providers) said the only reason people were on the internet was their ‘product’.

Now the ISP want the content providers to pay them to allow their (the ISP) customers access to the providers content( well competitors content)

Anonymous Coward says:

you need to remember how the UK has been totally ignoring EU laws and rules, so i bet France will do the same. the problem is there are no punishments in force for such situations. if a country wants to ignore the rules, they will. what i dont understand is if you are in the club, in this case, the EU, how can you not play by the rules? if you want to ignore those rules, running on your own all the time, why be in the club? as for Google, it was prepared to pull out of a country, was it Spain, rather than do what that government was trying. it may be the option here for Netflix and others to take

Anonymous Coward says:

This seems counter-intuitive. Surely a tax on bandwidth would only be payable by big earners like Netflix? If a smaller start-up service suddenly found themselves using Netflix-level amounts of bandwidth, but didn’t have the Netflix-level income to support paying this proposed tax, they’d be forced out of business by it

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, it makes sense that Netflix would be paying their own ISP. They do need to be connected to the internet to upload stuff in the first place.

The problem is that a bunch of the other ISPs are demanding that Netflix pay them as well, even though Netflix otherwise has no direct dealings with them. When their demands went unmet, they started playing games with network interconnections to force Netflix to have direct dealings with them. In effect, demanding that Netflix use multiple ISPs to deliver content that only one ISP should be required to send.

Richard (profile) says:


As so often there is a half truth in there – but it is twisted.

The way the logic could work is this:

People get Netflix but find that their connection is too slow to use it properly. Netflix then decides that it is in their interest to pay the ISP a subsidy to upgrade the connection to make their service viable for more people.

There is nothing wrong with that scenario – since it is entirely voluntary and both Netflix and the customer will gain from the deal.

Superficially it resembles what is proposed here but it is not the same.

Bengie says:


Company A is doing too well and other companies have not figured out how to compete. I know, lets create a new tax that negatively affects Company A’s bottom line and hope it somehow encourages other companies.


Toyota is doing too well, so lets create a gas tax and that will somehow encourage people to purchase Fords!

What kind of retarded logic is that? Seriously, how can these people not be mouth breathers?

I only see one of two extremes. 1) Incredibly stupid 2) Incredibly corrupt

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: derp

Why not both options?

Seriously though, that analogy is flawed. As suggested above, this is more like introducing extra costs for all non-French cars and allowing French cars to use a different, faster lane. Without making sure that the French cars are as good, as reliable, as full-featured as the other cars, of course, and then hoping people merely decide to buy Francais rather than going elsewhere.

As with most of these kinds of things, it’s as much about control as it is profit. The French are notoriously nationalistic and protectionist about its language and culture. So, not only do they have the usual dimwittedness and lack of foresight when it comes to adapting to the new media age, they can’t bear the thought of a non-French company reaping the rewards that they’ve failed to deliver.

Anonymous Coward says:

According to news reports, Fleur Pellerin plans to introduce a new tax on “the use of bandwidth”,

What about digital TV over the same cables as the Internet, will that be charged as well, after all it is competing with Netflix for the use of the total bandwidth of cable distribution systems, but has an advantage that the bandwidth is reserved.

Rudyard Holmbast says:

What the French GOVERNMENT minister said is so fucking crazy, the French need an unelected government commission to “remedy” the “problem” by usurping legislative authority and issuing decrees it has no statutory power to promulgate. Because, as we all know, once such a precedent is set, unelected government bureaucrats never take it as a license to do whatever the hell they want. Plus, if there is anything governments are known for it is their almost supernatural power to foster both innovation and entrepreneurship while, at the same time, being acutely aware of how much regulation stifles both.

And if these unelected bureaucrats are called out for their power grab, they can enlist the aid of like-minded tech bloggers, and their comment section sycophants, who can then claim anyone, whether they be libertarian pundits, conservative politicians, small business owners, government commissioners or other tech bloggers, voicing opposition to this bureaucratic overreach is necessarily acting in bad faith and therefore must be in the back pocket of Verizon’s CEO. And if that isn’t enough, these bloggers can behave as if they have more practical knowledge than people who have run tech businesses, large or small, since before these bloggers were in diapers. Of course this would also mean they would pretend they have more insider knowledge of a commission’s intent, motives, and actions than someone who actually sits on that commission.

And, if all else fails, these bloggers, who are often skeptical of bureaucratic overreach, unless it furthers their political goals, can use a two-pronged strategy whereby everyone deludes himself into believing that a comedian on cable television is an unimpeachable expert on the topic, while also pushing favorably-worded polls supposedly demonstrating support for this overreach coming from both conservatives and “progressives”(evidently they are too fucking awesome to be referred to as “liberal”). This strategy would naturally require ignoring any and all polls that would bolster the opposite conclusion.

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