France puts net neutrality law on ice

Were some expecting too much from a net neutrality roundtable organised by France's digital economy minister? Perhaps - but the lack of action and the promise of more discussion has clearly disappointed.

France's roundtable discussion on net neutrality ended without agreement on Tuesday - much to the dismay of some neutrality champions.

Ahead of the debate, organised by France's digital economy minister Fleur Pellerin, French MP Christian Paul had called for net neutrality to be enshrined in law. However, despite previous comments by Pellerin supporting such a move, the roundtable closed with the issue of legislation kicked into the long grass.

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Instead, the roundtable's hours of discussion ended with Pellerin announcing that France's National Digital Council (Conseil National du Numérique) will begin work on the issue on Friday, charged with deciding whether the country does indeed need a law "to protect internet freedoms".

The French government will meet before the end of February to set out any future measures it intends to take on the issue.

The delays did not go down well among net neutrality's supporters. In a press release, the French internet advocacy group La Quadrature du Net asked: "What's the use of Fleur Pellerin?" According to the organisation, this week's roundtable has only been useful to "hide the minister's lack of action" with Pellerin "once again postponing plans for a law that would defend citizens". In a blog post, a spokesman for the French Pirate Party summed the meeting up as "a waste of three hours". 

Benjamin Bayart, president of the French Data Network, a non-profit telecommunications operator, said he was surprised the country is still debating whether net neutrality should be enshrined in law. "If we're still discussing net neutrality, it's because politicians haven't decided to do their job," he added.

Nonetheless, there remains significant opposition to net neutrality. France's telcos would like to be able to charge the bigger online companies for access to their services, while the country's broadcast watchdog CSA (which plans to merge with the French telecommunications authority Arcep) has signalled its ambition to regulate the net, too - in order to "guarantee that content should have supremacy over pipes".

Meanwhile, in July, Pellerin claimed on Twitter that "net neutrality is an American concept that tends to support the economic interests of Google, Apple, and their ilk", prompting commentators to say that the minister had sounded its death knell.