Digital rights advocates have warned that any move by the European Union (EU) to force major tech companies to make financial contributions to the cost of building and running of mobile and broadband networks would threaten the principles of an open Internet.
Telcos have frequently expressed their frustration that companies such as Google, Netflix, and others have benefited from investments in fibre and cellular infrastructure, while it is operators who are forced to ensure there is enough capacity to meet demand.
One study suggests that Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Meta (Facebook), Microsoft and Netflix account for half of global data traffic, and many of their services actively compete with those of the communications industry – impacting revenues – and are not subject to the same regulations.
The EU has long been a proponent of net neutrality rules that forbid service providers from prioritising certain applications beyond standard traffic management measures and from charging content providers for additional fees for the preferential treatment.
However last month it suggested the status quo might be unsustainable given the important of 5G and fibre to its societal and economic ambitions and its desire for a more level playing field in the technology ecosystem.
The EU sees a system of financial contribution as an alternative to abandoning net neutrality, but a letter from 34 digital rights groups in 17 countries says the effect would be the same.
“The EU's net neutrality law allows Europeans to use the bandwidth they buy from their ISPs however they want – whether for Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, or for a small, local site or service,” the letter reportedly says.
“Thus European telecom companies are already compensated by their own internet service customers for transporting this data over their access networks; they simply want to be paid twice for the same service.”