The 12-week consultation could form the basis of legislation that would force major tech firms to subsidise telco infrastructure costs

Today, the European Commission has announced its latest steps towards making gigabit connectivity available to all citizens by 2030.

Included within these updates is the proposed introduction of a ‘Gigabit Infrastructure Act’, aimed to reduce the red tape and administrative costs associated with deploying gigabit-capable networks, as well as a draft of a Gigabit Recommendation, seeking to provide guidance to national regulators about when operators should be allowed to access their competitors networks.

But perhaps most important among these updates is the launch of a consultation on the future of the telecoms sector, seeking to “gather views on the changing technological and market landscape and how it may affect the sector for electronic communications”.

At the heart of this investigation is the so-called ‘fair share’ debate, asking whether Big Tech firms like Google and Meta should be forced to help subsidise the expensive roll out of telecoms infrastructure on which their businesses are so reliant.

Proponents of this idea, naturally, include the majority of European telecoms network operators, who point to a report from the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) that suggests that the top six tech giants generated over 55% of all telecom networks’ traffic.

As such, it should come as no surprise that ETNO has called the launch of the consultation “a positive and urgent step towards addressing major imbalances in the internet ecosystem to the benefit of European end-users”, while John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA, said in a statement that the “burden [of funding network infrastructure] should not fall entirely on the backs of European consumers and businesses”.

In a blog post yesterday, Telefonica’s Chief Public Policy, Competition & Regulatory Officer, Juan Montero Rodil, argued that the EU would not meet its digital and connectivity goals without financial support from Big Tech.

“The solution that we are proposing is rather simple: The EU must ensure LTOs [Large Traffic Originators] have an obligation to sit down, negotiate and reach fair agreements on a fair and proportionate price for the services provided,” he said. “Such legislation will enable network operators to further invest in digital infrastructure to help achieve the EU’s digital targets and will incentivise LTOs to deliver traffic in a more efficient way for the benefit of the ecosystem.”

Others, however, have been far less enthusiastic about this plan, suggesting that it will infringe on European net neutrality principles that ensures all internet traffic is treated indiscriminately. It has also been argued that such a levy will essentially allow operators to be paid twice for providing the single service – once by their subscribers and again by the tech firms.

“Europeans already pay telecom operators for internet access, they should not have to pay telcos a second time through pricier streaming and cloud services,” argued Christian Borggreen, CCIA Europe’s senior vice president.

Now, the Commission is seeking the opinions of the wider telecoms industry in the form of a questionnaire, the outline of which was leaked earlier this month.

The consultation period will remain open until May, after which the Commission will decide on its next steps, including whether to implement new legislation.

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