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France Telecom, Free to Google YouTube: You're Blocked Unless you Pay
Thursday, 27 December 2012 21:04

UFC-Que ChoisirGovernment backs “Sender Pays” termination charge. Clarification: Existing connectivity is protected by the ruling. What's being blocked, without payment, is additional connections required because of the predictable growth in net usage. Original. Millions of French netizens discover their YouTube streams sputter and die or never begin in the first place. Other video services, including TF1, are also struggling. The effect varies, sometimes randomly and sometimes by time of day. Respected consumer organization UFC-Que Choisir found between 20% and 50% of users surveyed online had problems.

     Again, the existing connection remains and much of the traffic gets through. But Net traffic always grows and without regularly adding additional capacity many - not all - streams are blocked. French networks, with France Telecom in the lead, are refusing to accept growing traffic from Cogent, a major backbone carrier that services Google. They demand payment to accept all the streams their customers request. The independent French competition authority (Autorité de la concurrence) on September 20 approved the charging plan, leaving no doubt this is neutrality dispute. 

“The decision issued today by the Autorité de la concurrence regarding the dispute between the US operator Cogent and France Télécom is the first decision to be issued by a competition authority anywhere in the world in relation to an issue that is currently a focus for discussion in the context of the Internet neutrality debate: are network operators entitled to charge for opening additional capacity?” (emphasis in the original, which placed this statement in a prominent black box.) (Ruling below)

     Free’s customers are the hardest hit, presumably because they are growing the fastest. Xavier Niel confirms the problems "pipes between Google and we are full at certain times, and each pushes the responsibility to add pipes. This is a classic problem happens everywhere, but more often with Google." (PC World). If Google continues to refuse to pay, the problem will get much worse as traffic grows. Free is already losing customers. I discovered this story after Taylor Reynolds tweeted “Cancelled my 2 free.fr subs today b/c tired slow network and YouTube peering problem.” Actually, I believe Free’s network is neither tired nor slow, but appears that way because of the artificial problem at the connection edge.

    The five French networks (FT, Free, Bouygues, SFR, Numericable) are holding firm, providing a collective front against the mostly foreign content companies. Google is counting on public protest to force them to stand down. ARCEP, the regulator, and several legislators are jumping in. Free is adding the most customers and hence has higher traffic growth and the most problems. Press reports emphasize the Free-Google conflict, but apparently all the other ISPs as well as other video providers are affected.

    Ironically, France stood strong with the United States opposition to “Sender Pays” at WCIT (the ETNO proposal.) U.S. Ambassador Kramer believes sender pays “would have a chilling effect on the whole Internet base.” Kramer promised to refuse to sign the treaty if necessary (http://bit.ly/VkEvs5) and in the event the U.S. didn’t sign. The Africans are furious because they want to make up for the lost revenue from international long distance. America will lose a great deal of credibility if after refusing Africa’s demand - where the money is needed - the U.S. allows France to impose a similar termination charge.

    None of the parties are speaking plainly on the record (except Autorité de la concurrence.) Everyone’s hoping a private solution will make the problem go away. Lots of obfuscation about peering rules, traffic growth, precedents and more. The situation is much simpler than that. The carriers, obviously with an understanding to work together, are threatening to close the French market to Google unless they get a cut. Google is currently fighting back, letting the service degrade. If only one carrier were demanding payment, Google’s tactic would drive consumers to alternatives. When they work in (probably silent) collusion, the result is less clear.

    If the lid blows, this is the battle between the net and the telcos we’ve long feared.

For the record, Cogent writes
“We can certainly confirm that there is no such thing as a peering dispute between Cogent and Free/Iliad. For a few weeks now, the French press is reporting on an official enquiry launched by the French regulator (ARCEP) on Google/Youtube slowdown when being accessed by Free/Iliad end users, following a letter sent by a French consumer’s association. As part of this enquiry, ARCEP indicates that it has sent questionnaires to both Free/Iliad and Google, as well as to three unnamed third parties, of which ARCEP indicates that they are involved in traffic flow between these two companies. Some press reports may have cited Cogent in the context, as it is public knowledge that Cogent is involved in traffic flow between both companies. ... Please appreciate that Cogent cannot comment on individual relationships with other networks. We just wanted to make you aware that there is no dispute between Cogent and Free/Iliad.”

That simply doesn’t make sense. The costs of adding peering connections is trivial compared to the damage done, if Free/Iliad wasn’t charging for peering. Cogent/Google would long ago have increased the capacity if there was no dispute over peering. France is the sixth largest Internet market in the world and problems there are likely material to a company the size of Cogent.

Free/Iliad simply points me to the government documents. Others haven’t responded.

How bad is it? Here’s the press release from UFC-Que Choisir based on 16,000 responses. (Google translation.) The problem is likely somewhat overstated because those unhappy were more likely to respond, but numerous sources including the French regulator confirm a serious problem.


December 4, 2012

Access to Internet video content

16,000 consumers reported quality low flow ...

Following numerous Free Alerts subscribers about problems accessing Youtube, UFC-Que Choisir has decided to know the extent of the phenomenon in order to know if this type of problem arises for other services and operators. The survey, which gathered 16,254 responses in less than 24 hours, is overwhelming: the quality of internet connections, decried by Free, a problem in almost all operators.

Free: the palm of discontent

83% Free subscribers who responded to our survey number confirm that they are unable - in the absence of an agreement on interconnection (the pipes that connect one network to the other services ) between Free and Google - correctly use Youtube. However, the problems do not stop at Youtube and touch, according to subscribers of other services. In fact, among 13 proposed services (streaming, etc..) Free operator is the most problematic of 6 of them and the first tie on another. More than 20% of subscribers who responded have problems with streaming services, up to 25% of those MyTF1 even though all respondents do not use them. The figures for the catch up tv (catch-up TV) via the box are thus clear: when we exclude consumers not using 63% of respondents said they regularly enough Free access problems (30 % often, 33% sometimes).

Special mention for Orange and SFR

However, Free is not alone in grumbling customers, Orange and SFR defend very well too. More than 45% of their subscribers who responded to the questionnaire also complain of access to Youtube (47% for the former and 46% for the second). And streaming is not left since about 20% of consumers are critical vis-à-vis the quality of this service. The strangest thing is that Orange is the "worst" of access to Dailymotion. However, it is the closest! They are better than Free regarding catch-up TV via the "box", the number of dissatisfied remains important: greater than or equal to 50% in Orange and SFR ... but at Bouygues Telecom.

The overall results show that there is indeed a problem of quality Internet connections. And this can not be explained solely by disagreements between operators and Internet service providers on interconnection. The diversity of complaints does indeed pose the question of design infrastructure and therefore investment. If we refer to the report of 29 November 2012, ARCEP, and very poor results Free mobile web video uses the question also applies to mobile.

In view of these factors, the UFC-Que Choisir:


  • Asks the government to seize the issue of interconnection to define rules for maintaining a quality internet access, without penalizing innovation and competition to empower ARCEP to set place without delay, and completely independently, an observatory quality of service (QoS) for fixed and mobile networks;
  • Launched a petition on its Internet to allow users to make their voices heard to a better quality of service.

(1) The survey consisted of a questionnaire that was posted November 19, 2012, for 24 hours.16,254 consumers responded to the questionnaire (15 958 after cleaning the base). If 75% of responses were received from subscribers Free, 9% of respondents are subscribers Orange, SFR 7%, 5% and 3% Numéricâble Bouygues Telecom.

(2) platform for reviewing programs already broadcast on terrestrial television.

(3) owns 49% of Orange and Dailymotion announced that it would eventually control.

(4) See http://www.arcep.fr/index.php?id=11557 pages 56 to 60.

20 September 2012: Internet Traffic – Peering Agreements

France Télécom may ask to be remunerated for opening additional capacity but it must clarify the commercial and billing relationship between its Internet access and Internet transit businesses.

The transparency commitments made by France Télécom to the Autorité de la concurrence will facilitate the prevention and monitoring of potential margin squeezes in the future.

> Version française

The decision issued today by the Autorité de la concurrence regarding the dispute between the US operator Cogent and France Télécom is the first decision to be issued by a competition authority anywhere in the world in relation to an issue that is currently a focus for discussion in the context of the Internet neutrality debate: are network operators entitled to charge for opening additional capacity?

In this case, the US telecommunications operator Cogent claimed, among other things, that France Télécom was compromising the peering system (enabling exchange of traffic flows between networks, free of charge) used by transit operators, by requesting payment for opening up additional technical capacity for access to Orange subscribers. Regarding this claim, the Autorité considered that in view of the highly asymmetric nature of the traffic exchanged between France Télécom and Cogent, such a payment request does not in itself constitute an anti-competitive practice inasmuch as this type of remuneration is not uncommon in the Internet industry in cases where a significant imbalance exists between the incoming and outgoing flows exchanged between two networks, and is consistent with the overall peering policy adopted by France Télécom, with which Cogent is familiar.

However, the Autorité also noted a certain lack of transparency in the relationship between the domestic network of France Télécom (Orange) and its transit operator business (Open Transit), creating a potential for margin squeezes. France Télécom agreed to make commitments to prevent such situations and enable appropriate monitoring.

The Internet interconnection market

Three types of stakeholder operate in the Internet interconnection market:

- Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Orange, Free, SFR and Bouygues Télécom, which provide internet access services to consumers;

- Content and service providers (Google, Amazon, websites more generally, hosting services, etc.);

- Transit operators, such as Cogent, Tata Telecom or France Télécom (via its Open Transit brand), which interconnect ISPs with each other and with content providers via their international networks.

The following block diagram illustrates the relationship between Internet players (the arrows represent data exchange flows):

Operators interconnect with each other using either the "peering" or the "transit" method (with larger operators making use of both solutions).

In the most common cases, ISPs and websites purchase transit services from one or more transit operators in order to connect to the Internet and deliver traffic flows to internet users.

Internet operators are also able to connect with each other without a transit operator, via "peering" agreements whereby each "peer" operator exchanges data flows free of charge - in a balanced exchange - with another peer to provide access to its customers.


The request submitted by France Télécom to charge a fee for opening additional interconnection capacity does not appear unfair inasmuch as it is consistent with its peering policy

Peering-based data exchanges, although generally free of charge, are sometimes charged for, hence the term "paid peering", if the traffic exchanged between transit operators is asymmetric.

The peering policy operated by France Télécom (and indeed most transit operators) specifies a maximum traffic ratio (i.e. the ratio between the traffic volumes entering the Orange network and the outgoing traffic volumes sent to the transit operator's network), above which a fee may be charged. The purpose of this policy is to prevent congestion of the Orange network. France Télécom states in its peering policy that it would charge for opening additional capacity if the incoming traffic entering its network exceeded the outgoing traffic by a factor of more than 2.5. This ratio was specified in the agreement between Cogent and France Télécom concluded in 2005.

At that time, the MegaUpload website – since then shut down by US legal authorities – was a Cogent customer that used to send Orange subscribers, via Cogent, very significant traffic volumes (up to 13 times greater than in the other direction), essentially video content downloaded by web users. In view of the severely dissymmetric traffic to its detriment, exceeding the maximum ratio stated in its peering policy, France Télécom wished to charge for opening additional interconnection capacity.

The Autorité de la concurrence considers that such a practice was not liable to contravene competition law inasmuch as France Télécom did not refuse access to its subscribers by Cogent – and indeed opened additional capacity free of charge on several occasions between 2005 and 2011, in response to demand from Cogent – but simply requested payment for opening new capacity, in accordance with its peering policy, without seeking to charge for existing capacity hitherto provided free of charge.


A lack of transparency in the relationship between Orange and Orange Transit potentially facilitates margin squeezes

While examining the case, however, it emerged that, within the context of the lack of formalised internal billing between Orange and Open Transit for access to Orange subscribers, the existence of a margin squeeze situation cannot be excluded, in which Cogent would not have sufficient economic room to propose a competitive offering to content providers, as a result, in particular, of the wholesale price charged by France Télécom for routing content to its Orange subscribers.

In the course of the investigation, only one interconnection agreement between France Télécom and a content provider was identified as being conducive to a margin squeeze. However, this situation appears to result essentially from the strong negotiating power of the website involved, which is very popular, and not to result from France Télécom's deliberate attempt. More generally, however, it did highlight the opacity of the relationship between Orange and Open Transit.

Because internal exchanges within the France Télécom group by and between these two entities are not formalised, margin squeezing or even discriminatory practices would be hard to monitor, and as such, easier to carry out.

France Télécom has agreed to formalise the relationship between Orange and Open Transit. The aim of these commitments is to prevent margin squeezing and, where applicable, enable the Autorité de la concurrence to detect any such practices.

In response to the concerns raised by the Autorité de la concurrence, France Télécom offered to:

- define a formal internal protocol between Orange and Open Transit specifying the technical, operational and financial conditions governing the provision of connectivity services in France;

- implement a system to monitor application of the aforementioned internal protocol.

On 3 April 2012, the Autorité de la concurrence published these proposed commitments on its website and launched a market test1 to collect feedback from stakeholders operating in the sector.

Following this market test, and after making a few adjustments at the Board hearing, the Autorité de la concurrence deemed the aforementioned commitments to be appropriate, credible and verifiable, and made them binding. They will enable the Autorité, in the event that a complaint is submitted to it, to verify that France Télécom has not engaged in margin squeezing or discriminatory practices detrimental to competing operators.

The internal protocol is to be submitted to the Autorité de la concurrence within three months. The Autorité will monitor implementation of the protocol for a period of two years.

1See the market test conducted on 3 April 2012.

> Full text of Decision 12-D-18 of 20 September 2012 relating to practices concerning reciprocal interconnection services in the area of internet connectivity.




All in French. Most conveniently accessed through the automatic translation option of the Google Chrome browser. Try it; it's great. 


Best article with numerous datapoints. Since the companies involved aren't talking, he has to draw inferences. I face the same problem, because my best sources 

will not go on the record. They still hope to resolve things privately.


Some details of the Senate debate 


points to the problem and the ARCEP investigation


Heavily redacted official notice, saying little.


Systematic tests of the problem




Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 15:10