France, Cradle Of 'Three Strikes' Punishment, Explores Another Bad Idea: Killing Net Neutrality
from the what's-the-Internet-ever-done-to-them? dept
Not content with giving the world the "three strikes" approach to copyright enforcement, France has recently shown signs of wanting to undermine one of the Internet's foundations: net neutrality. This has come about as a consequence of the French ISP Free's decision to block ads on its service. As Mike noted, this was essentially an attempt to persuade Google to pay the ISP an extra fee to carry its traffic, even though Free's customers already do that. That was resolved, at least for the moment, when France's Digital Economy minister Fleur Pellerin stepped in and persuaded Free to restore the ads.
Pellerin also called a meeting between interested parties to discuss net neutrality in France, since this is fundamentally what is at stake: if ISPs like Free can arbitrarily block or throttle elements of the IP stream, net neutrality is dead in France. However, rather than come to any final decision on this increasingly contentious area, Pellerin did what most politicians do in the circumstances: she announced that yet another group would be looking at the question and reporting back.
Given that in July 2012 Pellerin seemed to be a staunch defender of the idea -- she said "in my view, neutrality must be the rule" -- this conspicuous lack of support for net neutrality seems a clear sign that the French ISPs and telecoms have been lobbying hard and successfully. As the digital rights organization La Quadrature du Net put it:
Yet again, today's debate on Net Neutrality will have been a smokescreen. The voluntary speeches fall short with the referral of the issue to an obscure committee created by Nicolas Sarkozy, the CNN (Conseil national du numérique), all to finally justify the failure to adopt a serious position. Operators are left free by the State to restrict and monitor our online communications. While all the elements on the table demonstrate the need to act quickly by enshrining Net Neutrality into the French legislation, Fleur Pellerin still evades the issue.
Two days later, an opinion piece appeared in the French newspaper Libération, written by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the Europe Commission with responsibility for the Digital Agenda, responding to these events. As Techdirt has reported before, she has some surprisingly advanced views on copyright, but her position on net neutrality is far less clear, as the English translation of her Libération article indicates:
On net neutrality, consumers need effective choice on the type of internet subscription they sign up to. That means real clarity, in non-technical language. About effective speeds in normal conditions, and about any restrictions imposed on traffic - and a realistic option to switch to a "full" service, without such restrictions, offered by their own provider or another.
So does that mean that "any restrictions imposed on traffic" are permitted, provided they are explained in non-technical language? Is Kroes signalling her own reluctance to defend this technical cornerstone of the Internet, just like Pellerin? At this stage it's still not clear. But what is evident is that net neutrality is under attack in Europe as never before, with France once more in the vanguard.