The proposal for a network fee charge on tech giants has been rebuffed by a majority of European countries, as they’re siding against the idea of putting an additional financial burden on leading tech companies.
This motion, backed by prominent telecom operators in Europe, argues for the levy on the likes of Google to facilitate the deployment of broadband and 5G throughout the region.
The opposition stance
In a Luxembourg meeting with EU industry chief Thierry Breton, 18 telecom ministers of the Union voiced their disapproval or called for a comprehensive study into the proposal’s necessity and implications.
This mirrored the stance of BEREC, the EU’s telecom regulators’ group, expressing their concerns last month. The telecom behemoths pushing for this change include Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, and Telecom Italia.
They believe that as data and content from major tech companies contribute significantly to network traffic, these tech firms should shoulder part of the network costs. This sentiment found a sympathizer in Breton, an ex-CEO of France Telecom and IT consulting firm Atos.
However, tech giants including Google’s parent Alphabet, Apple, Meta Platforms (Facebook’s parent company), Netflix, Amazon, and Microsoft rebuffed this idea. They argue that they already make substantial investments in the digital ecosystem, negating the need for additional charges.
Fears and worries
The European telecom ministers resisting the levy highlighted several potential issues. They raised concerns about the lack of research on the impact of a network levy, an absent investment shortfall, and the possibility that the tech giants might pass on the extra expense to consumers.
They also cautioned about potential violations of EU “net neutrality” principles, which demand equal treatment of all users. Furthermore, they pointed out possible obstacles to innovation and a degradation in the quality of products.
The opposition includes Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, and the Netherlands.
Yet, not all EU members are against the proposed levy. France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, and Cyprus are among ten countries showing support for the idea.
Legal and legislative hurdles
Breton is due to release a report summarizing feedback from tech giants, telecom providers, and other stakeholders by the end of June. This report will significantly influence the subsequent course of action.
However, any legislation proposed needs negotiation and approval from EU countries and EU lawmakers to become law. As the Union remains divided on this issue, navigating this proposal through to law seems a Herculean task.
In summary, the proposal to impose a network fee on tech giants to fund 5G and broadband deployment in Europe faces significant opposition.
With concerns ranging from financial impact on consumers to potential violation of net neutrality principles, the path to consensus seems challenging, underscoring the complexities of regulating digital technology on a continental scale.