| 29 November 2023, Wednesday |

Majority of EU countries against network fee levy on Big Tech, sources say

People with knowledge of the situation indicated that the majority of EU nations have rejected a move by Europe’s large telecom operators to compel global internet giants like Google to contribute to regional 5G and broadband rollout funding.

According to the sources, telecoms ministers from 18 nations either rejected the proposed network fee levy on internet businesses or urged a study into the necessity and impact of such a measure during a meeting with EU industry chief Thierry Breton on Thursday in Luxembourg.

That echoed comments made last month by EU telecoms regulators’ group BEREC.

Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE), Orange (ORAN.PA), Telefonica (TEF.MC) and Telecom Italia want Big Tech to shoulder part of the network costs on the grounds that their data and content makes up a large part of network traffic.

They have found a receptive ear in the European Commission’s industry chief Breton, a former chief executive of France Telecom and French IT consulting firm Atos.

Yet Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc (META.O), Netflix Inc (NFLX.O), Inc (AMZN.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) have rejected the idea of a levy, saying they already invest in the digital ecosystem.

The European telecom ministers cited the lack of an analysis on the effects of a network levy, the absence of an investment shortfall, and the risk of Big Tech passing on the extra cost to consumers, the people said.

They also warned about the potential violation of EU “net neutrality” rules, which require all users to be treated equally, as well as possible barriers to innovation, and a lower quality of products.

Critics of a network levy included Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta and the Netherlands, the people said.

But France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Cyprus were among 10 countries which backed the idea, one of the people said.

Poland, Portugal and Romania either took a neutral stance or had not adopted a position, the people said, but another person said they favoured a network fee.

Breton is expected to issue a report by the end of June with a summary of feedback provided by Big Tech, telecoms providers and others, which will help decide his next steps.

Any legislative proposal needs to be negotiated with EU countries and EU lawmakers before it can become law.

  • Reuters