Numerous international organizations are criticizing the EU Commission’s plans to allow US online services to share in the infrastructure costs of the major European network operators. This would “drastically change the regulatory framework that supports the free and open Internet,” warn 31 civil society organizations in an open letter to Commission Vice President Margrete Vestager and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton.
“Asking providers of content or applications to pay for the use of the Internet infrastructure undermines the elementary protection of net neutrality in the EU,” warn the signatories, which include the Chaos Computer Club, Digitalcourage, the D64 initiative and the Information Technology and Society Association . This would be comparable to the attempt by the US government under Donald Trump to abolish net neutrality in the USA.
EU advances plans
Vestager and Breton recently spoke out in favor of Big Tech sharing the costs of the major European network operators. Breton referred to advanced planning, his office from Breton did not answer questions about it. The representatives of the member states are also pushing for cost-sharing by companies such as Meta, Amazon and Netflix. The EU Council already wanted to have this enshrined in a strategy paper by the EU Commission.
The EU would thus be complying with an age-old demand from the major network operators. It is primarily the international telco giants such as Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, Vodafone and Orange, whose lobby has been drumming for over a decade that the so-called “over the top” services should also pay for their traffic. In view of the increasing bandwidth requirements, for example from streaming services, the telcos see themselves in a bind: the service providers earn a lot of money on an infrastructure that they do not take care of themselves.
According to the current state of affairs, smaller network operators should not be able to enjoy the meta-dollars. Apart from the problems to be expected with implementation, German regional carriers therefore also see the risk of distortion of competition: cost-sharing from “over the top” platforms (OTT) such as Facebook, Amazon or Netflix in favor of network operators operating throughout Europe would amount to a unilateral subsidy .
Telcos collect double
“Sender paid” simply means that the telcos “want to be paid twice for the same service,” the signers of the open letter put it in a nutshell. This request by network operators has been repeatedly rejected in recent years, both by regulatory authorities and governments – and by the EU Commission itself.
Since then, nothing has changed in the starting position that would justify a different decision. The sudden change in direction of the Commission is all the more shocking – especially since the project has been pushed ahead in secret so far, without the participation of the public and the affected economic sectors. The EU Parliament had also recently shown itself to be skeptical and insisted on compliance with net neutrality.
The signatories continue to criticize the Commission’s assumption that the companies earmarked for cost-sharing cause a lot of data traffic based on a “fundamental misunderstanding of how the Internet works”. Internet users in the EU also pay their providers for the data traffic they generate. They can use online offers of their choice – this is also guaranteed by the EU rules on net neutrality.
In addition, the major content providers are already investing in infrastructure on their side. They operate data centers, content delivery networks and their own network areas around the world in order to be able to deliver their content to users quickly. The signers of the open letter emphasize that “they already bear a substantial part of the total costs of data traffic on the Internet”. In addition, the success of the content providers has also contributed to the rapid expansion of the global network.
“Dangerous and Impracticable”
“The idea of access fees has been discussed for decades and has always been rightly dismissed as dangerous and impractical,” the 31 organizations conclude their appeal. “The proposal will restrict freedom of speech, free access to knowledge, freedom to do business and innovation in the EU. It will hurt the European internet economy and create unprecedented bureaucratic hurdles that will slow the growth of the recovering economy.”
The following organizations have signed the open letter: AI for the People, ApTI, Article 19, Aspiration Tech, Chaos Computer Club, Citizen D, Civil Liberties Union for Europe eV, D64 – Center for Digital Progress, Data Labe, Digitalcourage, Electronic Frontier Foundation , Electronic Frontier Norway, Engine, epicenter.works – for digital rights, European Digital Rights, Fight for the Future, Fitug eV, Freifunk Hamburg, Global Innovation Gathering eV, Homo Digitalis, Internet Freedom Foundation, IT-Pol, majal.org, MediaJustice, mutabiT, Open Media, Open MIC, Open Net Association, Openculture.agency, R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, The Greenlining Institute.
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