French operators urge large platforms to contribute to network costs

The spread of teleworking and the increase in the consumption of online video or games have put a lot of pressure on bandwidths across the bloc. Netflix even had to agree to reduce their bandwidth in order to not saturate the networks. [JP WALLET/Shutterstock]

French telecom operators presented a list of 15 recommendations to candidates in the presidential race on Thursday (3 February), including the proposal for major digital content providers to contribute to the “costs of networks to ensure their economic and environmental sustainability”. EURACTIV France reports.

This debate is not new but could gain more traction this time around since digital giants are being increasingly challenged over their dominant position in certain markets.

The French telecom federation, which represents most French operators, has put forward the idea of creating a toll so that “major digital content providers” – including Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, known as GAFA, but also streaming platforms like Netflix – contribute to the costs of networks to ensure their economic and environmental sustainability.

“We are asking for the fair participation of these players,” Michel Combot, director-general of the French telecom federation, told EURACTIV France.

These platforms account for a significant share of traffic in the country. In its 2021 report on the state of the Internet in France, telecoms regulator Arcep pointed to “an increasingly clear concentration of traffic among a small number of players whose position in the content market is being strengthened.”

Netflix alone accounted for just over 20% of the traffic, according to Arcep’s data, and was followed by Google, Akamai – a US company specialising in providing cache servers for businesses – Facebook, and Amazon.

The current power of these players has allowed them to “impose free traffic” and forced operators “to give in to blackmail”, he added.

This proposal is not new, however. In November, the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) warned Brussels that “a large and growing share of network traffic is generated and monetised by large technology platforms”.

This “can only be sustainable if such big tech platforms also contribute fairly to network costs,” ETNO also stressed.

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‘Double virtue’

According to Combot, creating this right of way for digital giants to use the networks would have a double virtue since the financial burden would in part be borne by these companies, while operators are currently required to maintain high levels of investment just to keep up with online traffic requirements.

In this respect, the various lockdowns countries went through during the pandemic have proved to be a real test.

The spread of teleworking and the increase in the consumption of online video or games have put a lot of pressure on bandwidths across the bloc. Netflix even had to agree to reduce their bandwidth in order to not saturate the networks.

According to Combot, this could also lead to greater “accountability” of the platforms that would end up “optimising their flows” to minimise costs – and this at a time when policymakers are also looking into the environmental footprint of digital technologies.

Amazon did not respond to EURACTIV’s requests by the time of publication. Google and Meta – the parent company of Facebook – said they would not comment on the matter.

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[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi]

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