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Regulatory/Politics

EU politicos spar over what big tech pays for infrastructure use

A group of civil society organizations and digital rights activists has taken the European Commission to task over recent comments that big tech should contribute toward the costs of building fixed and mobile networks in the region.

A total of 34 NGOs from 17 countries published a joint missive to raise their concerns over what they describe as a "public statement" by the Commission’s digital chief Margrethe Vestager and EU Industry Chief Thierry Breton "to alter the regulatory framework underpinning the free and open internet."

Essentially, the group believes that any efforts to force the likes of Meta, Alphabet, Apple, Twitter, Netflix and Amazon to foot some of the region's network investment bill would impinge on net neutrality rules.

Rights groups argue that the EU's plans to force big tech to share the cost of building telecoms networks would undermine their own net neutrality rules.  (Source: Andrey Kuzmin/Alamy Stock Photo)
Rights groups argue that the EU's plans to force big tech to share the cost of building telecoms networks would undermine their own net neutrality rules.
(Source: Andrey Kuzmin/Alamy Stock Photo)

The letter said the intention to start charging content and application providers for the use of internet infrastructure "goes against the fundamental net neutrality principles and core protections in the European Union."

It adds: "Over the past ten years, these proposals have been discussed extensively and always rejected by governments, legislators, and regulators in Europe and around the world. Today, nothing has changed to legitimise the sacrifice of the free and open internet to satisfy the interests of the telecom industry."

Signatories to the open letter include European Digital Rights, Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Electronic Frontier Foundation and more. The letter was coordinated by epicenter.works of Austria.

Telco pressure

At a press conference in May, Vestager had opined that the issue of "fair contribution to telecommunication networks" demanded more attention.

Vestager’s comments were a response to what turned into a fairly controversial study published by the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO), a telecoms lobby group. The report had concluded that big tech isn't paying its way in Europe "while generating network-related costs of tens of billion euros."

Telcos also regularly grumble that technology giants ride freely on telecom networks. Investments, wrote the operators at the end of last year, "can only be sustainable if such big tech platforms contribute fairly to network costs."


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The 34 NGOs have little sympathy with this ongoing complaint, calling on Vestager and Breton to "challenge the short-sighted and self-interested demands of the telecom industry and to ensure a free and open internet."

The letter concludes that the net neutrality law allows Europeans to use the bandwidth they buy from their ISPs however they want – whether for Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, or for a small, local site or service.

"Thus, European telecom companies are already compensated by their own internet service customers for transporting this data over their access networks; they simply want to be paid twice for the same service," it said.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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