France's telecoms watchdog has cleared one of the country's largest ISPs of throttling YouTube.
Regulator Arcep conducted a six-month investigation to see if Free, which is the second-biggest ISP in France behind Orange, had been throttling YouTube during peak hours, following a complaint from consumer group UFC-Que Choisir that the video sharing service appeared slow.
Last year, a UFC-Que Choisir survey of more than 16,000 web users found that 83 percent of them had experienced problems with YouTube (as had 47 percent of Orange users and 46 percent of SFR users) prompting suggestions that Free had been compromising the principle of net neutrality.
Not so. According to Arcep, its network is just not up to the job.
After questioning Free's owner Iliad, YouTube's parent Google, and the transit companies that relay traffic between the two, the regulator found no foul play.
Arcep said it had uncovered no "discriminatory practices" between the pair.
"The inquiry did not reveal that Free was employing traffic management techniques on its network that differentiated traffic routing conditions based on the type of content, its origin, its destination or the type of protocol used. To wit, no practices contrary to principles of net neutrality were observed," Arcep said in a statement.
Instead, the watchdog put the problems with YouTube on Free's network down to simple congestion.
"Over a six-month observation period, the [Arcep] enquiry made it possible to ascertain ... that Free's interconnection and IP data traffic routing capacities are congested during peak hours, as use of the most bandwidth-hungry applications continues to rise. This is an issue that all ISPs are having to contend with," it said.
The investigation is part of a wider debate on net neutrality in the country and whether big internet companies should be required to pay ISPs to ensure quality of access for heavy-traffic services. Google is already paying Free's rival Orange as compensation for the amount of traffic its service generate over the ISPs networks, its CEO said recently, though he did not reveal the size of the payment.
Requiring content providers to pay in this way could lead to larger, more profitable companies being able to buy higher quality of access than smaller companies and individuals, who would have to offer a slower or otherwise compromised experience — a situation which would contravene the idea of net neutrality and lead to a "two-tier internet".
Earlier this year, it looked as though France would enshrine the idea of net neutrality — the idea that all online services and content are treated the same way — in law; however, it appears the legislation has now been kicked into the long grass.