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ARCEP submits draft version of its report to Parliament and the Government on Net neutrality to public consultation 

Paris, 16 May 2012

ARCEP is submitting the draft version of its report to Parliament and the Government on Net neutrality to public consultation.

The internet is a shared asset of public interest to which citizens, economic stakeholders and public sector players are very attached. The massive rise in both individual and collective usage requires substantial investments to sustain an ongoing increase in system capacities, and the gradual rollout of new superfast fixed and mobile networks. It is within this environment that the debate over Net neutrality has evolved: how to reconcile the internet’s fundamental principles of openness, transparency and non discrimination with its growth and the need to protect the quality of access to the services it supplies.

In accordance with the Law of 22 March 2011, Parliament has asked ARCEP to provide a report on the status of this issue.

In September 2010, ARCEP published 10 proposals whose aim was to define a lasting state of equilibrium, neutrality and quality in the way the internet operates, combined with instruments to ensure this equilibrium is maintained. At the time, the Authority had indicated that these proposals marked the start of a cycle of work and monitoring of internet companies’ practices, which would be performed in an open and collaborative fashion involving all of the stakeholders. The projects that began, and about which Parliament has queried ARCEP, concern transparency, quality of service, interconnection and traffic management.

It is worth reiterating that a dynamic and competitive market, which is capable of keeping ISPs disciplined, is vital to the existence of high quality internet access products that uphold the principle of neutrality. The transparency of the services on offer, in other words providing consumers with clear, relevant and understandable information on available services, their quality and limitations, enables competition to play its role by allowing consumers to identify and choose the offer that corresponds to their needs. Although progress has been made, it must continue to be made. ARCEP and the State departments responsible for telecommunications and consumer affairs co-host a working group on this issue that is populated by the sector’s stakeholders. Its conclusions will be made public in autumn 2012. However, competition and transparency alone are not enough, and need to be completed by other actions in the arena of quality of service, interconnection and traffic management.

First, to track the quality of internet access services and avoid the creation of an internet that operates “at several speeds,” ARCEP will adopt a decision in summer 2012 – which comes to complement the existing scheme on mobile networks – and which specifies QoS indicators for wireline networks which will be measured and made public, along with their measurement modalities. Their ultimate purpose is preventative in nature. The Authority nevertheless has the option of setting minimum quality of service requirements, should such a measure prove necessary.

Second, the interconnection business model, in other words the relationship between internet players, is evolving gradually and needs to be better understood. Imposing a template on interconnection ties and their pricing could create friction between the players. ARCEP considers that current trends do not reveal a need to strengthen the regulatory framework at this stage. The process of regular collection of information, which it introduced in its Decision of 29 March 2012, will allow ARCEP to keep track of these trends, to analyse them and take action accordingly.

Lastly, ARCEP has taken an inventory of traffic management practices – i.e. the differentiated treatment of internet traffic streams, such as throttling, blocking or priority queues – being employed by operators today. Under certain circumstances, these practices could hinder the principle of Net neutrality. In September 2010, ARCEP had announced a framework for assessing these practices, based on five criteria. Since then, the Authority has noticed a decrease in the use of these practices, thanks in particular to competition and especially on mobile networks. Certain current practices are nevertheless contrary to the framework proposed in 2010. ARCEP is therefore calling for the steady elimination of service blocking (VoIP, P2P) on mobile networks. If the market fails to make sufficient progress on its own, the Law gives ARCEP the powers needed to enforce its recommendations.

Upon completion of the public consultation that begins today, during which all stakeholders are invited to submit their remarks to ARCEP, a final report will be drafted and submitted to Parliament and the Government.

The public consultation will run until 20 June 2012. The draft report, along with practical information on the consultation are available for download (in French) on the ARCEP website.

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