Arcep speaks

"There needs to be an international agency overseeing the proper development of the Internet" : an interview from ARCEP Chairman, Jean-Ludovic Silicani to La Tribune - 14 April 2010

La Tribune: How do you plan on following up on your conference? Does there need to be a law to structure the Internet?

Jean-Ludovic Silicani: The ultimate aim of the work we are doing - and of this conference, which was a tremendous success - is not necessarily a piece of legislation but rather the assurance that the Internet works properly over the long term. The conference helped reveal the need for public authority involvement. Market experts predict that in roughly ten years from now, around 20% of global GDP will be devoted to the digital ecosystem, compared to the current 6% to 7%. The Internet will become a strategic collective asset. If it doesn't work properly, the economy comes to a halt. So, once it is aware of this fact, no country can afford to keep its arms crossed. We need to have certain "rules of conduct". For some, it will mean setting rules so that the Internet develops and is properly financed, by accepting traffic management and prioritized services. For others, public authorities will need to intervene to enforce compliance with the principle of neutrality that no longer exists. In all cases, even if their requests may appear contradictory, all players involved in the Internet system address themselves to public authorities, which was not the case a mere two years back.

What solutions do you propose?

It emerged from the discussions that the two extreme stances need to be eliminated, namely: refusing any management of the Internet and giving network operators free rein to employ their traffic management tools with no need for transparency, which is what they are already doing (it is not illegal, but nor is it satisfactory). Given the massive increase in Internet traffic, this would lead to a swift decline in the quality of services, to a poorly functioning web, and would allow a handful of companies to capture all of the traffic. The goal, then, is to find an acceptable level of traffic management, to define the systems used, determine when they will be necessary - when there is a danger of overload, for instance - what their limits are and what criteria need to be met. Traffic management must be transparent, which means it needs to be performed under terms of which everyone is aware, consumers and content providers alike, and which are impartial, such that all comparable users can access the same service under the same conditions. For this to happen, the rules of conduct, which are set by legislation and/or recommendations, need to be implemented by the players, first through self-regulation mechanisms and, if necessary, through public regulation.

Are telecom carriers right in saying that they are unfairly compensated for providing access to their networks?

The three groups of players - content and service providers, telcos and consumers - already contribute to financing the networks. But are they paying the right amount, and based on economically sound mechanisms? We have a poor understanding of the economics of the Internet, which is not the case with classic telephone networks. Internet connectivity developed in a "cooperative" fashion, with interconnection points originally managed in many cases by universities. Nowadays, however, the terms governing interconnection and peering (exchange of Internet traffic between peer providers - Ed. note) are very unclear. There are only a few large Internet backbone operators - the backbone being the long haul optical fibre networks that supply connectivity. Sometimes it's free, sometimes it's charged for, some players have preferred access on a network in exchange for a fee, and the rates charged are not the same for a large and for a small company. Its an archaic and opaque market. With the huge surge in online video, which consumes a massive amount of bandwidth, the scale of the problem changes. We need to question the relevance of the current business model, and provide market players with clear economic signals.

What role can ARCEP play in redefining this model?

We need to move away from the system where the company providing access to the fixed or mobile Internet makes no commitments on the level of service delivered - falling back on the notion of "best effort". This means that we will need to define what constitutes basic Internet access, with standards in terms of minimum access speed and quality of service. We also need to encourage an Internet market structure. If the French legislator decides that a certain number of rules must be followed, the Law needs to specify which public authority is in charge of regulating this market. Naturally, ARCEP will comply with what Parliament decides.

Who should play for access to the network, the Googles and other Dailymotion type sites or the user?

It is first up to the players with an economic stake in the matter (content providers and ISPs) to organize their commercial, technical and financial relationships. Ultimately, however, it is always the consumer who pays, whether directly or indirectly.

How can ARCEP intervene with respect to global companies?

ARCEP's powers have been increased by the new European Telecom Package. If a content provider has a complaint about a telecom carrier's behaviour or a certain practice, it can appeal to ARCEP to settle the dispute.

And if that is not the case?

For now, only the Competition Authority and the courts have the power to settle disputes. So there is a certain legal void in this area of regulation. More importantly, there is no body currently responsible for overseeing the Internet's proper development at the global level. In other words a true regulatory authority, or at least cooperation, at this level. Some global bodies do exist, such as ICANN for managing domain names and addresses, but they are often confined to technical matters and largely in the hands of the Americans.

Would you like to see the creation of an international authority?

There is room for a body comparable to the international agencies you find in a great many sectors like healthcare, food, trade, etc. The current situation is imperfect but logical, since the Internet originally developed to a large degree in the United States. But now that it has become a global network of strategic interest, the bodies in charge of its operation can no longer remain confined to a private club of players from the English-speaking world.

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