The three governments want content providers to subsidize EU 5G and broadband buildouts.
The European Commission is under increasing pressure to make tech giants pay for the buildout of telecom infrastructure in the EU, Reuters reports. A new paper signed by representatives of France, Germany, and Italy urges EU officials to bill Big Tech to help defray the considerable costs associated with European 5G telecom infrastructure buildout and better broadband access.
The “fair contribution” debate in the EU has been slowly growing to a boil for months, if not years. Last November heads of Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and 11 other European carriers called on U.S. tech giants to help pick up the tab for 5G, fiber and cable network buildouts. But this marks the first time officials from the three countries have set forth a proposal for the European Commission to consider.
The European Telecom Network Operators Association (ETNO) offered a challenge to the European Commission in May to implement some sort of fair-contribution policy to defray infrastructure costs.
“In the European Digital Rights and Principles the European Commission proposed a principle that all market actors benefitting from the digital transformation should make fair and proportionate contribution to the cost of infrastructure. It is part of our reflection in the context of investment,” ETNO wrote.
ETNO claimed that Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Netflix accounted for 56% of all global data traffic in 2021. ETNO predicted a £72 billion (US$73.6 billion) economic boost out of a £20 billion (US$20.4 billion) annual investment. The letter recently delivered to the European Commission cites the same 56% figure.
“A large and increasing part of network traffic is generated and monetized by big tech platforms, but it requires continuous, intensive network investment and planning by the telecommunications sector,” read the document, according to Reuters. “This model — which enables EU citizens to enjoy the fruits of the digital transformation — can only be sustainable if such big tech platforms also contribute fairly to network costs.”
Danish politician Margrethe Vestager, currently serving as executive vice president of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, acknowledged the issue in a May news conference.
“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. They have not been contributing to enabling the investments in the rollout of connectivity,” Vestager said.
Vestager’s comments drew concern from dozens of non-government organizations (NGOs), which in June submitted an open letter to the European Commission warning that if content providers are forced to pay for access, the E.U. may jeopardize net neutrality rules.
“Charging content and application providers for the use of internet infrastructure would undermine and conflict with core net neutrality protections in the European Union,” the letter said in part.
Meanwhile, the EU and the European Commission continue to grapple with cybersecurity issues associated with European Open RAN efforts. In May, they published a report finding that Open RAN offered promising opportunities, but that cybersecurity remains a significant challenge. The report notes that the risks of the Open RAN concept include a larger attack surface and more entry points for malicious actors, an increased risk of misconfiguration of networks and potential impacts on other network functions due to resource sharing. The report also highlights that technical specifications, such as those developed by the O-RAN Alliance, are not sufficiently mature and secure by design.