French lawmakers take a swing at cloud monopolies

Action gathers steam in the EU, US and UK as anti-trust teams collate market feedback

The Cloud Infrastructure Providers In Europe (CISPE) lobby group has welcomed an agreement among French lawmakers that it claims "will enshrine fair software licensing for cloud customers in French law."

The subject being tackled in France has reared its head among multiple competition agencies, with the UK collating feedback from market participants, the Federal Trade Commission doing likewise, and the EU investigating Microsoft's policies following complaints.

Google has accused Microsoft of running a cloud monopoly stateside, AWS has told the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that Microsoft software pricing in non-Azure clouds makes it "financially unviable" for customers to not choose Microsoft, and the EU's antitrust team is considering multiple aspects of Redmond's software licensing in the cloud.

The French agreement is the latest incarnation of France's digital bill, Sécuriser et réguler l'espace numérique (SREN), which is due to go before the French Senate today.

The bill has attracted controversy since its inception. Mozilla, for example, took exception with browser-based website blocking in early versions of the bill. The current version was filed on March 26.

A large chunk of the bill concerns cloud strategy and, in particular, protecting sensitive data – a thinly veiled swipe at US laws that could be used for surveillance.

The agreement does not mention Microsoft by name, although CISPE called out both it and Broadcom in its statement.

According to CISPE, among the provisions for sovereignty that reside within the bill is a call for the competition regulator to act on what the organization regards as "unfair licensing practices in the cloud sector."

The lobby group, backed by AWS and 28 other European cloud providers, complained about "restrictive practices of software vendors that raise costs for cloud providers and prices for customers."

Francisco Mingorance, secretary general of CISPE, told us via a statement: "With competition cases against serial transgressors taking time, it is important that harmed parties have a clear deadline in which action will be taken to end these unfair software licensing practices.

"We are pleased that France has taken a lead on this issue and will be closely considering our next step on behalf of our members. Fair software licensing is a core principle that should be upheld everywhere to help accelerate a dynamic, growing and fair market for cloud services in Europe."

The European Union is aware of the time it takes antitrust teams to investigate complaints, and is considering updating the 20-year-old competition legislation to speed up processes.

According to Amit Zavery, vice president and head of platform at Google Cloud, by the time any regulatory action is taken there is every chance that Microsoft might have run off with the market.

"The time is of the essence," he told The Register. "They did that with the OS market in the enterprise side with Windows [and] they did that with productivity software, where they own 90 percent of the market share with Office.

"Collaboration has become the same thing. Communication – the same thing. And now cloud is becoming the same thing."

Of dealing with Microsoft's cloud licensing policies, Zavery said: "We hope there will be some proper regulations to prevent this kind of behavior by Microsoft."

While Broadcom has recently received attention following its recent acquisition of VMware, Microsoft has long been a bogeyman for CISPE thanks to fees that have made its wares considerably cheaper on Azure.

CISPE itself filed a complaint over anti-competitive licensing from Redmond in 2022 despite Microsoft's attempts to remove itself from the gaze of regulators through certain concessions.

In March, CISPE warned Microsoft that legal action would be forthcoming if the company persists in its "unjustified feature and pricing discriminations against fair competition."

The pair are currently at the negotiating table trying to thrash out a settlement.

We asked Microsoft to comment on the French agreement and will update this article if one is forthcoming. ®

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