Net Neutrality: France Is Playing The Telcos' Game

Paris, 3 December, 2014 – Seven months after the historic vote in the European Parliament on Net neutrality, the Council of the European Union could soon bury this fundamental principle. While its inclusion in French law could be debated in the coming months, it is high time for the government to put an end to is doublespeak and supports an uncompromising defense of Net Neutrality in front of its European partners. However, in Brussels, the French government seems in tune with the lobbying of big telecom operators.

European legislative process
European legislative process

On November 27th, nearly seven months after their predecessors historic vote for a true protection of Net Neutrality, the new MEPs elected last adopted a resolution reaffirming this position 1.

In the meantime, the Council of the European Union – which as a European co-legislator is now in charge of the legislative file – has postponed its decision on the matter for lack of substantive agreement between Member States. While the Italian Presidency of the Council seemed in favor of Net Neutrality a few months ago, its recently discussed proposition seeks to undo the protective definitions of Net Neutrality adopted by the Parliament. It removes the guarantees of effective enforcement of citizens' rights by allowing the prioritization of “specialized services”, thus conforming to the demands of telecom lobbies who would like to make deals with the big online services (such as Google or Netflix) and sell them prioritized access to European Internet users. Faced with divergent opinions in the Council, Member States have decided to delay any agreement on the text, giving reasons to fear the upcoming regulation might be dropped altogether and that they'll stick to the dangerous status quo.

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It is in this context that Axelle Lemaire, French minister for Digital Affairs, announced2 that the so-called "Digital Bill", scheduled for the first quarter of 2015, would contain a section on Net Neutrality. The announcement came as a surprise since Net Neutrality seemed to have been discarded 3. But the position defended by the French government during the vote in the European Parliament last April as well as the recent discussions in the European Council raises serious concerns. Furthermore, seeing the minister for Digital Affair starting to use rhetoric elements usually used by operators4 also raises fears that this bill is primarily meant to protect the interests of operators rather than the rights of citizens.

The French Council of State's recent report on rights in the digital environment is an additional source of concern, as it backs the the unfounded claims by operators that real Net Neutrality protections would undermine investment in faster networks.

It is high time for the French government to clarify its position on Net Neutrality, both at the European and national level with the upcoming Digital Bill. Last spring's large citizen mobilization and the EU Parliament's historic vote in favor of true legal protections for the free Internet must be fully taken into account. As ministers in charge of the file, Axelle Lemaire and Emmanuel Macron (Minister of the Economy) must put an end to their doublespeak and fight back the harmful influence of dominant operators on telecom regulation to take a clear stand in favor of Net Neutrality,” said Felix Tréguer, founding member of La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. "The European Parliament […] 11. Urges the Council to make swift progress and open negotiations with Parliament on the proposal for a regulation laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent, as this would, concretely, put an end to roaming charges inside the EU, provide more legal certainty as regards net neutrality, and improve consumer protection inside the digital single market; believes that this regulation could constitute a crucial step towards realising a single European mobile market; […] 14. Stresses that all internet traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, irrespective of its sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application;"
  • 2. "The Bill will introduce the principle of network neutrality in French Law, with a promotion of interoperable and open formats and standards" in [FR]
  • 3. For example in this interview [FR] or in front of the senators [FR]
  • 4. "Everything must be done to affirm Net Neutrality, and at the same time letting space to innovation such as e-health and very high definition TV." Les Echos, 27 September 2014