Of course, Thierry Breton would never use the term. But a catchy name for the EU Commissioner's latest idea was immediately circulating in Brussels: Internet tolls. He seems to fit.
Breton wants Facebook, Amazon, Google and other online giants to pay for the expansion of Europe's broadband network in the future - similar to the way drivers in many countries are asked to pay for using roads. It's an idea that could have consequences for millions of citizens across the continent.
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the largest mobile communications fair in the world, Breton said: You have to ensure that the huge investments in broadband lines are distributed fairly. According to Breton, it is about nothing less than Europe's future. To the question of how the member states can manage to cope with ever faster growing data streams, also in rural areas.
The EU Commissioner is thus taking a stand in a dispute that has been raging for years, so far largely unnoticed by the public. On the one hand: network operators such as Telekom, Telefónica from Spain and Orange from France. In other words, the companies that lay cables, erect radio masts and provide connections. They expect investment costs of up to 300 billion euros across Europe in the coming years.
On the other side: the search engines, streaming services and social media from America. They cause more than half of the data traffic in Europe.
Big Tech should therefore participate in the financing of fiber optic expansion, the European network operators are demanding. According to their plans, only a few large American companies should be affected.
The idea: As soon as an Internet company causes more than five percent of the data traffic in an operator's network, it should give up some of its sales - this would exclude all European companies. Breton launched a consultation on the project two weeks ago and plans to present a concrete proposal later this year.
But the Dutch government has already warned of the internet toll. She said the measure could violate net neutrality rules, which is the European practice that data is transmitted on an equal footing, regardless of content, destination and source. In addition, according to the Dutch, there is a risk of price increases for Europe's Internet users.
The worries seem justified. For example, many European companies rent server capacity from Google or Amazon's AWS cloud - and it is quite possible that the US giants will pass on the network fee to their customers.
Something similar is conceivable in the case of Netflix. Experts warn that if the streaming service had to participate in the expansion of the European broadband network in the future, it could make its subscriptions more expensive.
The problem from the point of view of the network operators: They do not make any sales with all the content that Google, Amazon and Netflix send via their infrastructure. "We are not able to earn back our capital costs," says a telecommunications lobbyist to WELT. "Governments in the EU are approaching us with ever-increasing expectations for broadband expansion across the country, but at the same time we are unable to pass the costs on to customers."
The argument of the US platforms: Without their content, European customers would not order broadband connections at all. It was only their services that made the network operator's products relevant at all.
In addition, the American tech companies refer to their own investments worth billions. Google and Amazon, for example, have long been operating undersea cables and servers in the data centers of telecommunications companies.
European companies are in a difficult situation. A look at the latest balance sheets from Telekom, Vodafone and other operators shows that their sales in the business with mobile phone contracts and fixed network connections are stagnating or even falling. At the same time, they have to invest billions in fiber optic expansion. The Internet toll should offer a way out of the dilemma.
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