The European Union’s industry chief, Thierry Breton, announced at the opening of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona that he would remain impartial in the ongoing debate between Big Tech and European telecom operators on who should fund the rollout of 5G and broadband. Breton also defended a 12-week consultation launched last week which may require Big Tech firms to bear a more significant portion of the costs.
Representatives from Alphabet, Meta, Netflix, and other tech companies were expected to attend the event and oppose the idea of bearing more costs. More than 80,000 people, including tech executives, innovators, and regulators, were also expected to attend the event where new product launches will be showcased.
Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, and Telecom Italia have been actively lobbying for Big Tech firms to pay their fair share of the fees. Telefonica CEO Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete said that this is the time to collaborate between telcos and Big Tech, and everyone should contribute with a fair share of the effort.
“Collaborating means everybody contributing with a fair share of the effort,” said Alvarez-Pallete.
Orange’s CEO Christel Heydemann deemed the EU consultation a first step to address an unbalanced situation, while stressing she was not calling to change Europe’s net neutrality principle nor pushing for a new tax mechanism. “We call for a new European framework which would bring a fair contribution of large online traffic generators to connectivity requirements,” she said.
The Dutch government was the first EU government to criticise Breton’s consultation and warned against imposing an internet toll on tech companies. It said such a move may breach net neutrality rules and lead to price hikes for Europeans. Content providers such as Netflix argue that they already invest heavily in infrastructure and that paying additional fees will detract from investment in products that benefit consumers.
According to Reuters, Mats Granryd, GSMA’s director general, stated that they can clearly see that the issue is not about neutrality and that they are not prioritizing or throttling.
“We can really see that this is not (about) neutrality. We are not prioritising. We are not throttling”: Mats Granryd
Critics of the fair share or Sending Party Network Pays (SPNP) model have warned that the so-called traffic tax could lead content-driven platforms to route their services via ISPs outside of the EU, violate net neutrality provisions and fragment the internet.
“These new regulations would violate net neutrality provisions and fragment the internet, hurting European consumers and economies,”, said David Frautschy, director at Internet Society, a U.S. nonprofit advocacy group.
Regulations will be difficult to implement and enforce, said Shahid Ahmed, executive vice president at NTT and an adviser to the US Federal Communications Commission.
The MWC will also see new product launches from companies including HMD Global, Honor, Huawei, RealMe, and Xiaomi. It is reported that the event will also discuss topics like the 5G adoption rate, which has disappointed some executives, and the potential uses of generative AI systems such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT.