If European telecom operators make GAFAM pay for their networks, who will foot the bill in the end?

Vincent Mannessier

October 4, 2023 at 4:00 p.m.


GAFAM © Koshiro K / Shutterstock.com

GAFAM © Koshiro K/Shutterstock.com

The leaders of around twenty European operators published an open letter this Monday calling for the creation of participation by the largest digital companies in the financing of telecom networks.

This is far from the first time that such a request has emerged. Since more than half of the world’s bandwidth is requisitioned by a handful of companies, many operators would like them to participate financially in the creation and maintenance of the infrastructures they use, for the moment , with the same status as any other website.

The exceptional status of these companies is already recognized in certain countries outside Europe, but such a system seems complicated to apply on the Old Continent. It would in fact go against the principles of Net neutrality, enshrined in a judgment of the European Court of Justice in the territory of the countries of the Union, and which obliges operators to provide the same services to all. Faced with the insistence of operators, this principle could well lose its substance, the EU having already seemed to back down on the issue.

Make GAFAM contribute to the amount of their use of telecom networks

In their open letter, the leaders of these European operators, including Bouygues and Orange, explain that it is high time that GAFAM participates in the deployment of telecommunications infrastructures. They explain that at present, the latter do not pay “ almost nothing for data transport in our networks “. However, YouTube, Disney, Netflix, Microsoft and Amazon alone account for more than half of global internet traffic. They also estimate that given the exponential growth of this traffic, investments of 174 billion euros between now and 2030 would be necessary to meet their connectivity objectives.

The timing of this letter is not due to chance: in fact, the European Commission is about to publish the conclusions of its report on the future of electronic communications and their infrastructures, and operators are therefore taking the opportunity to inform it pressure.

Thierry Breton European Union © Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com

Thierry Breton © Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.com

The question of GAFAM participation, a chestnut tree in Europe

The European Union, especially in recent years, is not exactly known for its indulgence towards GAFAM. So if it has still not acceded to this request from the operators, who are far from formulating it for the first time, it is for a good reason: respect for the principle of Net neutrality. This principle involves guaranteeing equal treatment between all data flows on the internet, and therefore prohibits any positive or negative discrimination with regard to the source or recipient of these flows. It therefore prohibits, in theory, charging GAFAM for their traffic if such a rule is not applied to all websites. This principle is supposed to be applied everywhere in the EU since 2015 and the adoption of an open Internet regulation.

Furthermore, if GAFAM were forced to participate in the investment of telecom infrastructures, they could ask for preferential treatment with regard to the use and availability of their data, or even increase their prices for their European customers.

But we could well be heading towards this scenario, with European institutions gradually opening the door. Thus, in September 2022, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, suggested that it was time to change the rules on the issue…

Sources: The world, The echoes

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