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Europe’s smaller telcos join the big tech ‘fair contribution’ debate

Europe map with network points

The European Competitive Telecommunications Association seems keen to make sure its members aren’t overlooked in any move to get big tech to pay its ‘fair contribution’.

European Commissioner Thierry Breton recently revealed the EC is going to have a closer look at the matter of getting those few US tech giants that produce the majority of internet traffic to pay for their burden on the networks. ECTA characterises that as the ‘fair contribution’ debate and wasted little time in producing a lengthy comment on behalf of its members.

ETNO, which represents the interests of Europe’s biggest operators, has repeatedly lobbied for big tech to be forced to give them some money. ECTA looks after the second tier and has, until recently, kept its cards closer to its chest. The Breton announcement seems to have spurred it into action, however.

It commenced its published statement by stressing that ‘the European model must be preserved’. This seems to be referring to telecoms regulation in general, which encourages competition in the sector by preserving a stable framework for new entrants. ECTA seems worried that the review process might lead to deregulation, which it thinks would be bad for its members.

It’s not obvious why getting big tech to chip in to the cost of running networks would necessarily lead to deregulation, so perhaps the coded agenda is to make sure ECTA members get their ‘fair’ share of any such contributions. Since many of them don’t seem to operate networks of their own, it’s had to see why they would qualify for any compensation. The statement goes on to talk about some members that regularly have 30% Capex to revenue ratios, so maybe those are the ones in question.

The inevitable nod to green matters does touch on the intriguing concept of ‘energy sobriety’. In this case this seems to mean things like regulating video providers such that higher resolution (and thus much more data intensive) streams than are needed by the consumption device. For example, 4k/8k video is completely unnecessary for smartphone screens where the increased resolution is impossible to discern.

“We call on EU policy makers to ensure that any measures taken are consistent with, and contribute to, preserving the EU’s rich and diverse electronic communications ecosystem, the European model, consumer choice and welfare, and, achieving the EU Green Deal,” concludes the statement.

“Any action can – and should – be achieved in full respect of Europe’s Open Internet principles.  Any rule-making should follow the established European regulatory approach in being built on a foundation of sound and technical and economic analysis and findings, open consultation on any tangible proposals, with transparent opportunity for stakeholder input and debate.”

That all seems reasonable. This is the sort of thing trade associations are supposed to do: represent their members interests in a nuanced and even-handed manner. While the ECTA statement my have an element of payday FOMO to it, there is also good reason to fear the lower tiers of the European operator ecosystem being overlooked when the corporatist EU eventually gets around to making its move.

 

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