updated 05:20 pm EST, Fri January 27, 2012
Free claims competitors hitting below the belt
ARCEP, the French telecom regulator, has said it is going to inspect low-cost wireless provider Iliad's backbone network to make sure it is compliant with its bandwidth licensing requirements. The action takes place after Iliad's competitors raised complaints about Iliad's network performance and customer service. Iliad, which operates its wireless service under the Free name brand, denied the claims, discounting them as false rumors.
Iliad stirred up the French wireless market earlier this month when its Free launched a service with unlimited calls to France the US, and most of Europe for 20 euros ($26) per month. The plan also included unlimited texts and three gigabytes of mobile data. Free also announced that starting today, it would begin offering the iPhone 4S under the plan. This has touched off a price war, and Free's main competitors, Orange, SFR, and Bouygues Telecom, have dropped prices to compete. They also unleashed a barrage of claims against the discount carrier, including one that Free, inundated with customer traffic, had turned off its own overloaded mobile antennas and had instead offloaded the traffic to France Telecom's network, with which Iliad had a roaming agreement.
ARCEP has issued a statement indicating that it hasn't received any formal complaints. It also hasn't received any concrete evidence backing the allegations. Despite this, the agency, "for the sake of transparency and peace of mind," has asked Iliad to provide documentation regarding the status of the network. This would include a list of installed and active towers, as well as any that had been shut off and an explanation why that action was taken.
Maxime Lombardini, Free's Chief Executive, has denied that it turned off any part of the network and welcomes an investigation. "Our competitors are trying to make it seem to consumers that there is a problem with our network," said Lombardini. "There isn't. When you are faced with false rumors, the best thing to do is get back to the real facts." [via Reuters]