ARCEP submits its report on Net neutrality to Parliament and the Government

Paris, 20 September 2012

Through the Law of 22 March 2011, Parliament has asked ARCEP to provide an update on the status of net neutrality. ARCEP submitted today its report to Parliament and the Government on this issue.

In this document, the Authority provides an analysis of the technical and economic issues fuelling today's debates, describes its remits in this area and details its work to ensure that net neutrality is upheld. ARCEP's actions are also described in relation to those being performed by BEREC at the European level, and to which the Authority is an active contributor.

The Internet is a common asset to which citizens, economic stakeholders and public sector players are very deeply attached. The steady rise of its uses as well as the financing of the investments accompanying the increase in network capacities and the gradual rollout of new fixed and mobile ultra-fast broadband networks, create both technical and economic issues. This is the context in which the net neutrality debate has expanded: how to reconcile the Internet's fundamental principles of openness and freedom with its growth and the need to protect the quality of access to the services it supplies?

In September 2010, ARCEP published 10 proposals that aimed at defining a sustainable, neutral and high-quality equilibrium for the functioning of the Internet, combined with tools to ensure this equilibrium is maintained and to guarantee it if needed.

In 2010, the Authority already indicated that these proposals marked the start of a cycle of work and monitoring of Internet players' practices, which would be performed in an open and collaborative way involving all of the stakeholders. The projects that were launched, and about which Parliament 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 essential to the existence of quality Internet access products that respect the principle of neutrality. The transparency of the offers, in other words the provision to consumers of clear, relevant and understandable information on available services, their quality and limitations, still needs to be improved. ARCEP and the other public authorities responsible for electronic communications and consumer affairs co-chair a working group on this issue which is gathering the sector's stakeholders. It should produce results by the beginning of 2013.

However, competition and transparency alone are not always enough Therefore ARCEP has engaged further efforts to ensure the ecosystem runs smoothly and stakeholders comply with the principles laid out in 2010.

Firstly, to track the quality of Internet access services, ARCEP will adopt a decision before the end of this year that specifies the quality of service indicators for fixed networks, which will be measured and made public, in complement of those already measured for mobile networks. This investigation will make it possible to compare network performance, to strengthen competition between operators and, taking a preventive approach, to ensure that quality of service does not decline. From now on, the Authority also has the possibility of setting minimum quality of service requirements, should such a measure prove necessary.

Secondly, ARCEP has undertaken an inventory of traffic management practices implemented by operators - e.g. throttling, blocking or priority queues.-. Thanks in particular to competition, ARCEP has noticed a decrease in the use of these practices especially on mobile networks. Certain practices are nevertheless contrary to the framework set in 2010 which consists of five assessment criteria. ARCEP is therefore calling, among others, for the steady elimination of service blocking (VoIP, P2P) on mobile networks. If the market fails to make sufficient progress on its own, the current legislation gives the Authority the powers needed to intervene.

Lastly, the interconnection business model, namely the relationships between Internet players, is evolving gradually and can give rise to conflicts: it needs to be better understood. In light of its analysis of the current state of the market, ARCEP considers that there is no need to strengthen the regulatory framework at this stage. The regular collection of information introduced by the Authority's decision of 29 March 2012 has produced its first results this summer 2012 and allows ARCEP to keep track of these trends, to analyse them and take action accordingly.

In parallel, ARCEP is paying attention to the specific role of content and application providers and device manufacturers in the preservation of the neutrality principle. As these questions often exceed its remits, the Authority merely formulates recommendations.

The approach chosen by ARCEP is a progressive one, based first on immediate, preventive actions aiming at promoting competition and transparency, and the disclosure of ARCEP's analysis of issues; second, on the ability for Internet's companies, operators or content and application providers to appeal to ARCEP to settle a dispute, particularly in relation to traffic management and interconnection; and finally on ARCEP's ability to take prescriptive decisions in the case a general or discriminatory degradation of quality of service should be observed.

It is now for Parliament and the Government to determine the follow-up to be given to this report.

This report was produced following numerous hearings and a public consultation that was held in May and June 2012. The report is available in French and English and can be downloaded from the ARCEP website.