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France stalls plan to make Google and pals foot broadband rollout

'Obscure panel' mulls web giants funding new high-speed networks

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France has put off plans to force Google and other web giants to help build broadband networks. The nation has instead handed off the controversial issue to a governmental panel described by activists as "an obscure committee".

Fleur Pellerin, France's junior minister for the digital economy, told a roundtable on net neutrality that the National Digital Council (Conseil National du Numerique, or CNN), a panel set up by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, will figure out whether a law is needed to force big biz to fund better internet networks, Reuters reported.

The dithering over this issue and the protection of net neutrality has annoyed various lobby groups. Advocacy organisation La Quadrature du Net, which argues for digital rights and freedoms, said that passing the ball onto the CNN was "disappointing".

“By referring the issue to an obscure committee rather than announcing a draft law guaranteeing net neutrality, the Minister of Digital Economy, Fleur Pellerin, is protecting operators' interests over those of the users," Jérémie Zimmermann, La Quadrature's spokesman, said in a canned statement.

"Fleur Pellerin evades the issue and abandons citizens, leaving them at the mercy of access restrictions dangerous for innovation and freedom."

France's government wants big web firms with high volume traffic to contribute to investment in high-speed internet, which is currently funded by telcos.

Google, Facebook and other top web companies naturally don't want to pay to get their content to people and any restriction of web information from sites that won't or can't pay would move the debate into the tricky territory of freedom of information online.

French broadband provider Iliad already tried to get the attention of web firms by launching a feature that blocks all online ads after Google continued to refuse to pay for the traffic it sends to customers in the country. Iliad gave up on the scheme when internet activists and web businesses went mad, but the government thinks it has a point. ®

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