Infrastructure costs: fair contribution versus net neutrality

“The “fair contribution” could potentially impact end prices for consumers and negatively affect free competition,” the shadow Jordi Solé from the Greens/EFA told EURACTIV. [Carlos Amarillo/Shutterstock]

The European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) does not support the Council’s position on network contribution because making big tech firms pay does not follow the principle of net neutrality. 

On Tuesday (17 May), ITRE adopted a compromise text that removed the European Council’s reference to network contribution and instead included a connected idea.

The text says that “convergent conditions for investments in digital infrastructures” are needed for all market actors to benefit from the digital transformation and “assume their social responsibilities and contribute to a competitive and functioning environment”.

This “better reflects the respect of the principle of net neutrality”, a spokesperson from Martina Dlabajova, ITRE rapporteur from Renew, told EURACTIV.

Net neutrality rules ensure that access to content and services is non-discriminatory and that all traffic is treated equally.

As part of the path to the digital decade, the French Presidency had added a strong reference to the network contribution of big online platforms in its proposal. 

ITRE now excluded this reference from the draft report as it did not get the support of most political groups during the negotiations between the shadow rapporteurs of the file. In fact, only the EPP group supported the mention. 

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Also, according to Christian Borggreen, the vice president of the tech trade association CCIA, adhering to net neutrality is a valid argument against big tech’s contribution. “The idea of charging some online services, but not others, is by definition discriminatory,” Borggreen said in a panel on Europe’s internet ecosystem organised by ETNO on Monday (16 May).

Opening the door to fair contribution could also lead to further issues. “The “fair contribution” could potentially impact end prices for consumers and negatively affect free competition,” the shadow rapporteur Jordi Solé from the Greens/EFA told EURACTIV.

The debate will be picked up in the trilogue among the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission. 

Besides this debate as part of the path to the digital decade programme, the Commission has recently announced that it is working on a legislative initiative to make content-heavy platforms contribute to the cost of telecom networks. This should be presented before the end of the year, but more details are still to come. The trilogue could already offer a taste of the direction the Commission is aiming to follow.

The initiative responds to a long-standing complaint from telecom operators who accuse online platforms of consuming vast amounts of data without paying for the cost of this capacity. 

Commission to make online platforms contribute to digital infrastructure

The European Commission is set to present a legislative initiative to make content-heavy platforms contribute to the cost of telecom networks before the end of the year.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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