On Jan. 3, Free, one of the major providers of Internet services in France, decided to block ads over the Internet for its 5 million subscribers.
This move was designed to speed up the company’s negotiations with Google about paying telecom companies for using Free’s network.
Xavier Niel, CEO of Free, is known as a trailblazer. In just one year, he revolutionised France’s entire mobile industry by creating an ultra-low-cost subscription tariff that started from as little as 2 euros a month. Free now wants to do what no company has done before—get paid by Internet companies to help support the infrastructure costs of enabling subscribers to access online content.
The company’s unconventional stance caused an outcry among advertisers and online publishers who found themselves suddenly cut off from their customers. Fleur Pellerin, France’s minister for the digital industry and small businesses, was forced to intervene.
After meeting with advertisers, online publishers’ representatives and Niel, Pellerin ordered Free to stop blocking the ads. She described the block as “not compatible with my vision for a free and open Internet of which the user remains master.”
Her point? It’s up to the subscribers themselves to choose whether or not they want to block ads. The decision doesn’t belong to Free. As a result, further discussions continue to take place between both sides.
Free is going to stop blocking ads for now. But the company didn’t say whether it plans to use this measure once again if negotiations with Google don’t go well.
France needs people like Niel, with a different vision and mission, people who fight for what they believe in and who are making real changes. But is it right to make so many businesses in the digital marketplace suffer in order to apply pressure to Google?
Ysaline Rozier is an intern at gyro London.