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Europe to consult on making big tech pay for network use

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Thierry Breton has reportedly said he will launch a consultation on making tech giants contribute to the cost of the continent’s networks.

Breton is the European Commissioner for its internal market. He recently conducted a press conference on the matter in French but, at time of writing, had made no written statement. Thankfully Reuters reporters who speak the lingo were there to pass on the message.

Showing its customary urgency, the European Commission isn’t going to start the six month consultation until early next year. It will apparently be a broader look at the relationship between the continent and US big tech, which will include things like the metaverse. “We also need to review whether the regulation is adapted with the ‘GAFAs’ for example, which use bandwidth (provided by) telecom operators,” Breton reportedly said.

GAFA is how the French abbreviate the big tech company names (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon), but in this case is taken to include Netflix and, presumably, any other major provider of internet video. Part of this consultation will presumably be the previously reported request for operators to present evidence supporting their claims for the GAFAs to pay for the exceptional burden they place on networks.

While it’s easy to see some merit in the operator claims, since they are currently unable to specifically monetize the video streaming traffic that dominates their networks, the concept of billing producers, as opposed to consumers, of data is a novel one. In the telecoms industry the commercial dynamic is between provider and subscriber. What the latter chooses to do with the service they have paid for has hitherto been irrelevant.

There perhaps wouldn’t be such a fuss around this matter if the any of the big tech companies were European, and there is definitely money available to companies attempting to break the US dominance of the sector. A consortium called AI4Europe has got hold of €9 million from the EU to build an AI-on-demand platform which ‘seeks to bring together the AI community while promoting European values’.

“The AI-on-demand platform is a critically important strategic infrastructure and ecosystem to ensure that Europe is at the cutting-edge of AI,” said Professor Barry O’Sullivan, Director of Insight at University College Cork and AI4Europe Coordinator. “Through the dissemination of research expertise and results, and through the adoption of AI technologies in industry and the public sector, we will support the uptake of trustworthy AI in Europe.”

Not the most bullish statement of intent, was it? It’s possible that the European Commission genuinely thinks chucking a few mil here and there with political strings attached to it will give the European tech sector the springboard it needs to catch up with the US and east Asia. More likely this project is about being seen to be doing something, but maybe it will at least inform future EU tech policy.

 

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