The governments of France, Italy and Spain have clubbed together and produced a joint document moaning about Big Tech.
Sent to the European Commission – and seen by Reuters – the paper urges new legislation that will see the likes of Alpha, Amazon, Meta and Netflix pay for some of the region's network infrastructure bill.
The three governments said that the six largest online content providers account for 55% of Internet traffic.
"This generates specific costs for European telecom operators in terms of capacity, at a time they are already hugely investing in the most costly parts of the networks with 5G and FTTH," the document said, as reported by Reuters.
The trio of governments argue that Big Tech should pay a "fair share" of digital infrastructure costs, although what "fair share" might mean in practice – from the point of view of European telcos and the paper's authors – was not made clear.
The paper added, however, that any legislative proposal should "ensure fairness between users in accordance with the net neutrality rules, which is a core principle we absolutely need to preserve."
The joint paper will likely get a sympathetic hearing from the EC. Margrethe Vestager, the commission's digital chief, indicated in May that it seemed a pretty good idea if Big Tech footed some of the region's network investment bill.
She said that the issue of "fair contribution to telecommunication networks" demanded more attention. "We see that there are players who generate a lot of traffic that then enables their business but who have not been contributing actually to enable that traffic," Vestager added. "They have not been contributing to enabling the investments in the rollout of connectivity."
Vestager did not appear to mention the plus side of Big Tech – giving consumers incentives to upgrade their broadband connections to enjoy its services better – or acknowledge huge network investments already made by video streaming providers.
In a recent joint statement by the EU and various telecoms associations, including the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO), a telecoms lobby group, and the GSMA, another appeal to "fairness" was made.
"We strongly support the EU Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade, which calls for establishing relevant frameworks to ensure a "fair and proportionate contribution" of all players," said the statement.
"Similarly, we support the public debate launched by EVP Vestager and commissioner Breton in May 2022 for an open discussion on whether all players currently contribute fairly to the development of digital network infrastructures.
…or fairy tales?
Light Reading, asking for clarification from ETNO on what fairness might mean, received this email response from a spokesperson.
"The fair contribution is about the imbalances, hence we propose to discuss a scope that reflects issues with 'large traffic originators.' It is about avoiding a 'tragedy of the commons' in which a very small number of Big Tech companies risk depleting a common resource [the Internet] by generating costs they do not contribute to."
Yet a quick look at the last annual report Amazon filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission shows it invested $55.4 billion in capital expenditure last year alone – mainly, it says, on technology infrastructure, "the majority of which is to support AWS."
AWS, of course, is the trove of Internet content and cloud-computing unit that has allowed operators to slash spending on IT resources. And $55.4 billion is about $15 billion more than the entire telecom industry spends each year on radio access network equipment.
- Europe's telcos flout net neutrality in push to make Big Tech pay
- EU politicos spar over what big tech pays for infrastructure use
- EU's Vestager goes Big Tech bashing (again)
— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading