Congestion on the line
Internet-service providers clamour for a fairer contribution from content firms
THE raid by the European Commission's antitrust gumshoes this month on Orange,Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica of Spain seemed to come out of the blue.
The companies professed a surprise verging on stupefaction.
Even some Brussels insiders were caught on the hop.
Naming no names, the commission said the inquiry involved internet connectivity.
The question is whether entrenched telecoms firms are abusing their strength in the market for internet traffic to deny video-streaming websites and other content providers full access to their networks to reach consumers.
Besides the content providers themselves, the other potential plaintiffs are the wholesalers that the content providers use to ship their data across borders.
These rely on incumbent internet-service providers such as Orange to take the data the last bit of the way to subscribers' screens and mobiles.
All eyes turned to Cogent Communications, an American wholesaler which handles data for the likes of YouTube.
Cogent has complained, fruitlessly, to French and German regulators that their former monopolies were asking too much to handle data, and throttling the flow to consumers when bigger fees were not forthcoming.
It is appealing against the French decision.
In theory Orange and the other network providers might simply pass on to their customers the cost of all their streaming and downloading of funny cat videos and porn.
But Europe's market is fiercely competitive; and regulators place all sorts of constraints on how networks can charge for their services, while haranguing them to invest in new technology and new capacity to keep up with rising traffic.
Though there are similar spats in America, it looks to some Europeans like another example of the rape of the old continent by America's data-mining, tax-avoiding internet giants.
The broader issue—and the reason, perhaps, why the antitrust watchdogs chose to weigh in—is that Europe is on the brink of big regulatory change.
A draft law to be published in September will subtly alter the principle of net neutrality,the idea that companies which own the infrastructure cannot give priority to some traffic over that of others.
This rule has fostered competition and kept prices down in Europe but has discouraged networks from investing.
The draft law will ban incumbents from blocking data from some sources,
but it will let them impose varying charges for different qualities of service for data sent through wholesalers.
Together with other provisions in the package, this should encourage Europe's telecoms firms to invest in upgrading their networks, its authors hope.
But the commission's antitrust watchdogs are bound to be on guard against any moves that might reduce competition.
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2.access to 有权使用
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4.invest in 在…上投资，在…投入
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