Should GAFA be forced to pay for telecommunication networks? Brussels revives controversial idea

According to a number of media reports, “at the end of the year” Brussels should submit a special legislative draft on this issue. (Photo: 123RF)

Paris. Should Netflix, Google and others be involved in the financing of telecommunications networks? The European Commission is considering the “fair contribution” of digital giants, the main consumers of bandwidth, at the risk of undermining the principle of net neutrality. A project that has long been in demand by operators.

“There is an issue that we need to look at very carefully, and that is the issue of equitable contribution to telecommunications networks,” European Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager said this week.

“Because we see that there are actors who generate a lot of traffic by allowing their activities to exist, but who have not contributed to making this traffic work,” she added during a press conference on Monday.

After the adoption of the European draft regulation on digital services and markets (Digital Services Act, DSA; Digital Markets Act, DMA), “now this is one of the main projects in our digital space,” his colleague thundered even more. in the domestic market, by Thierry Breton, on Wednesday on Twitter.

According to a number of media reports, “at the end of the year” Brussels should submit a special legislative draft on this issue.

Thus, the Commission is responding to a recurring request from operators, such as the joint application submitted by the four largest European operators, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Orange and Telefónica, last February.

55% online traffic

Etno, the European telecoms lobby, published a study on Monday showing that web giants such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix alone accounted for 55% of online traffic last year, with operators investing more than 500 billion euros per past tense. ten years in the development of national networks.

The association, which deplores the “little or no financial contribution to the development of networks” by these web giants, is calling for $20 billion a year to “unlock important opportunities.”

On the side of the giants of the network, the counterargument was not long in coming.

According to the CCIA, which represents the information and communications technology industry, of which “GAFA” (an acronym for Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple) is a member, “tech companies invested hundreds of billions of euros in internet infrastructure between 2014-2018.” and encourage operators to avoid traffic congestion by developing new technologies.

“Carriers are already getting paid by their customers,” criticized lobby vice president Christian Borggreen.

“This would be comparable to requiring energy distributors to force washing machine manufacturers to pay for the energy consumed by their products when it is already billed to the consumer,” he added.

net neutrality

Other critics from European digital rights associations are also concerned about the possible impact on the principle of equal treatment and access to online content, known as “net neutrality”.

In September 2020, the EU Court of Justice ruled that an access provider cannot favor certain applications or certain services by giving them unrestricted access when competing services could be blocked or slowed down.

But is it not too risky to force Internet giants to pay more to demand compensation from telecom operators?

“This is definitely what will happen: there will be ordinary people who will not pay, whose services will be slow, and others who can afford it and have privileged access. This is a clear threat to net neutrality under the guise of justice,” Stefan Borzmeier, a network engineer and Internet specialist, told AFP.

“The principle of net neutrality is excellent,” but “practical application is difficult,” he adds. “It’s very difficult to make that a precise and legally enforceable rule.”

In the United States, this has been the subject of fierce battles for many years. The Trump administration, for example, has reverted to a principle voted two years earlier under Barack Obama, accusing it of discouraging investment in new services. Joe Biden is now struggling to restore it.

The European debate has just begun.


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