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Watchdog rules in Free’s favour in channel carriage dispute with Altice France

French media watchdog the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA) has ruled that service provider Free has the right to refuse to carry the channels of Altice France and associated services.

The ruling deals a blow to Altice France, which has been in dispute with Free over the terms under which BFM TV, RMC Découverte and Diversité TV are carried.

Altice had hoped to emulate the success of national broadcasters TF1 and M6 in forcing ISPs to pay for carriage of channels and associated services.

The CSA has now definitively ruled that if broadcasters can demand fees for the retransmission of the channels on non-over-the-air networks, there is nothing to force distributors from carrying these services.

The watchdog said that it had “made its best efforts to help the parties reach an agreement” and invited them to continue to engage in discussions “in the interest of viewers”.

BFM TV, RMC Découverte and Diversité TV asked the CSA to mediate the dispute between them and Free earlier this year after Free refused to accept demands for fees linked to the provision of the channels and added value services.

The CSA noted that while Free wants to continue to distribute the channels without paying for them, it had shown a willingness to pay for added value series. However, in the absence of a deal, the refusal of Free to accept an offer extended by Altice did not constitute an attack on the principals of transparency and fairness.

Moreover, while Free had struck deals with TF1 and M6, there was nothing to oblige it to accept offers from everyone, the regulator said.

Finally, the regulator ruled that since BFM TV, RMC Découverte and Diversité TV were available elsewhere, Free’s refusal to carry them did not constitute an attack on plurality or on diversity.

The blow to Altice from the CSA follows a legal victory last week beforethe Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris, which ordered Free to stop retransmitting the channels without permission, something ti had continued to do after Altice cut its signal. Free will be subject to a daily fine of €100,000 from August 27 if it fails to comply.

Altice will now face a dilemma in its negotiations with Orange following the expiry of its current carriage deal with France’s largest operator. While the deal expired at the end of July, Altice has pushed back any move to act to cut its channels until September.