ISP did not throttle YouTube traffic at peak hours, telecom regulator finds

Following a complaint from a consumer association, the French regulator investigated whether ISP Free had broken net neutrality rules

Allegations that an ISP throttled traffic from YouTube and other Google properties at peak hours were unfounded, according to the French telecommunications regulator.

Any problems with access to YouTube and other sites at peak hours were simply due to the overall volume of data flowing between the ISP, Free, and the rest of the Internet, said the regulator, Arcep.

Following a complaint from the French consumer association UFC-Que Choisir last September that Free appeared to be throttling traffic from YouTube, Arcep began an investigation, questioning the companies involved and their transit providers, and studying traffic flows.

Arcep spent six months studying traffic flows at Free, finding that Free and Google exchange traffic directly, via peering, and indirectly through a number of international transit providers, and that both routes are congested during peak hours, as they are at other ISPs.

Furthermore, there were no signs that Free was employing traffic management techniques on its network to discriminate against traffic based on the content, origin, destination or protocol used. In other words, Arcep said, "No practices contrary to principles of net neutrality were observed."

At the time of the complaint, Free was known to be in dispute with Google over who should pay for additional interconnect bandwidth between the two. In January it briefly added a function to the DSL routers of millions of its customers to block ads served by Google and other major ad networks. The ad blocker, enabled by default although Free's customers could choose to disable it, cut into the revenue the ad networks received from French surfers. Within days, the French government announced that such action was against the principles of net neutrality, and with the next router software update, the feature disappeared. There was no change in the number of complaints from Free customers on user forums and elsewhere about difficulties viewing YouTube videos at peak hours, though.

Neither Google nor Free immediately responded to requests for comments on the investigation's findings.

Having recognized the importance to customers of the way in which ISPs and Internet companies balance their use interconnection and peering, the regulator now plans to conduct six-monthly reviews of operators' practises and the effect this has on customers.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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