Are we seeing the beginning of a fightback from ISPs tired of carrying heavy traffic loads from ‘over-the-top’ freeloaders, or is it just a case of ‘smoke and mirrors’. The first volley came from Comcast aimed at Level 3, one of the largest Internet backbones in the world, demanding a fee from them to deliver Internet video to Comcast subscribers.

Now it appears France Telecom ISP, Orange, has caught on wanting to charge file-sharing site, Megaupload, for delivering bandwidth-hungry content over the Orange network.

In a similar tit-for-tat trading of claims and counter-claims as occurred in the US spat, the Hong Kong based cloud outfit claimed that Orange was barring access to its video streaming and download services.

Orange subsequently denied the claims stating that Megaupload’s peering partners were not reliable. Megaupload then called on its users, presumably in France, to contact Orange call centers en mass reporting service outages in a bid to disrupt the ISP’s support operations. Orange responded to that with threats of legal action and the inciting message was taken down from the Megaupload site.

Now, while all that may sound a little unreal in this day and age, the sting in the tail came days after Megaupload and its sister site, Megavideo, were named along with Rapidshare, as the three main suppliers of alleged pirated digital content. Anti-fraud firm MarkMonitor monitored illegal traffic levels and found these firms generated over 21 billion site visits last year. Such sites are becoming as popular as peer-to-peer methods of accessing illegal content.

This revelation adds another dimension to the action by Orange. Has it singled out Megaupload simply because of the inordinately high traffic it generates over the Orange network or is acting as a guardian of digital rights? Maybe it figures that firms like Megaupload would prefer to cave in and pay rather than challenge Orange in the courts where their own activities may come under more critical scrutiny.

Whatever the case, the fact that network providers and ISPs are making moves towards charging the source of heavy traffic rather than the recipients is nothing short of bold. Targeting the weak may be a start but going head to head with the legitimate ‘big guys’ may be another matter.