More information has come to light on a recent article about the strange goings on in French ISPs. The ‘feisty finger-pointing’ started when internet users reported a marked slow-down in delivery speeds from certain video sources, especially YouTube.

Laurent Perche from Thailand, quite the expert in all things French and internet-related, was quick to point out that I had missed one stakeholder in my list of three and that it might actually be the most important: the Content Delivery Network (CDN) providers.

He felt that talking about QoS (quality of service) and content delivery without mentioning CDN is missing a large part of the story and would lead to the wrong conclusions most of the time. About 45 per cent of the global Internet traffic is already being delivered by CDN providers and it is growing very fast. Akamai, Limelight and EdgeCast are the main CDN providers with the vast majority of the traffic being delivered between these three companies.

Google, it seems, has decided to deploy its own CDN solution (Google Cache) and not rely on any third party CDN. This, Perche says, is the core of the issue between Google and Free as Google wants to deploy their Google Cache in Free’s network while Free is asking them to buy paid peering instead.

That is assuming that Google Cache is actually deployed in other ISPs in France (Orange, etc.) but this cannot be confirmed at time of writing.

As for video service TF1 being affected, Perche found this very odd since TF1 is using Akamai as a CDN provider and therefore, unless Akamai platform was experimenting outage or disruption, there should have been no issue with TF1 website. For example, Canal Plus, which is also driving massive video traffic, was not mentioned in the original article as having had trouble although it is also an Akamai customer.

Back to the Free-Google issue, Perche suggests, “you need to put yourself in the shoes of Free because ultimately somebody has to pay for additional 10GE ports, routers, switches, etc. to carry an ever growing Internet traffic. The fact that ISP’s revenues are based on number of subscribers while cost is based on total capacity creates a gap that need to be filled. This is why most operators are currently deploying CDNs or making plans to do so.”

In the meantime, news sources report that Free has dared to take on the might of Google and other online advertisers by enabling its customers, an estimated 5.2 million users in France, to block web advertising, Google’s major source of income. Free provided this ad-blocking facility last week when it updated home router software. The move could cost Google up to one million euros every day, a source told news agency AFP.

The BBC reports that Philippe Jannet, the former president of Geste, the French online publishers association, said that when operators “see Google come in like a cuckoo bird and make profit off the internet service they provide without receiving a penny in return, it’s normal that they get mad.”

But Free’s ‘David vs Goliath’ disruptive battle was short-lived. Yesterday, France’s Digital Economy minister Fleur Pellerin persuaded Free to restore full access to all content on the internet, including Google ads. It is reported that Ms Pellerin has scheduled a meeting with Google about Free’s actions and one can only wonder how that meeting will go and what stand she may take.

This whole affair has certainly raised awareness of the plight of network operators and sends a shot over the bow of the good ship Google, and all who sail in her, that the perceived status quo can be challenged. Free has a reputation as disruptive player but there must be other network operators in awe of them for having the audacity to challenge Google.

By providing its customers with the ability to block ads it shoots down the net neutrality moaners who were quick to claim the end of the internet was nigh because of Free’s actions.

In any case, the story is not yet over, and it may take many twists and turns in 2013 as all the players jockey for position in the digital revenue stakes.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 9 January, 2013