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Free catch-up offer could signal “two speed” internet, say observers

French service provider Free’s offer of differentiated Quality of Service for a premium as part of its recent catch-up TV service launch has attracted the attention of the French press this week.

Free is offering “priority access” to programmes at peak viewing times for a small premium. Various press reports have noted that the move could have implications with regard to the principle of net neutrality, a topic currently exercising minds in Brussels and amongst national regulators. A number of observers including consumer group UFC-Que Choisir have expressed concern that the measure, by offering privileged access for a small additional fee, could mark the beginning of a move to create a “two-speed” internet.

A public consultation on net neutrality launched by government minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet in June has referred to the possibility of ISPs allocating bandwidth to “managed services”. However, the definition of what qualifies as such a managed service remains to be decided.