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Want to Claim Congestion? Then Expect Real Audits

Free is a really interesting new mobile carrier in France, which offers a cheap entry rate of service. It seems as though the incumbent they’re partnered with wasn’t expecting Free’s success and so they want to raise rates on the basis of congestion. Specifically,

France Telecom said its network was being stressed by a rapid growth in traffic brought on by its hosting of new mobile entrant Iliad and vowed to protect its clients from service interruptions, its CEO told magazine Le Point…Iliad’s Free Mobile service upended the French telecom market in January when it launched its main offer at 19.99 euros per month for unlimited calls to France and most of Europe and the United States, unlimited texts, and 3 gigabytes of mobile data.

It’s entirely possible that the network is stressed … but it’s equally possible that other issues are leading to stresses that are real or imagined. If incumbents get to call congestion whenever the market turns against them, then they should be subjected to real, honest to god, tests for congestion by engineers who are (at best) neutral. Ideally the engineers should be downright hostile in order to force the incumbent to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the network is indeed strained, and that such strains aren’t the result of poor management, investment, or technical configuration.

If it turns out that the incumbent is responsible then they should pay for the audit and be required to meet contractual service demands that were offered to partners and be prohibited from engaging in predatory pricing in the future. Congestion is now a particularly tired big-bad-wolf, and it’s time that ISPs that call wolf are actually forced to demonstrate, in peer-reviewable empirical terms, that the wolf is actually at the doorsteps or ravaging the sheep.