BT and Vodafone are among 16 major European telcos to have signed a statement urging the EU to adopt legislation that would require technology firms to make financial contributions for the construction and maintenance of mobile and broadband networks.
The telecoms industry has frequently expressed their frustration that companies such as Google, Meta, Netflix, and others have benefited from network investments, while it is operators who are forced to ensure there is enough capacity to meet demand.
One study suggests that Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Meta (Facebook), Microsoft and Netflix account for half of global data traffic, and many of their services actively compete with those of the communications industry – impacting revenues – and are not subject to the same regulations.
Operators believe the current situation is unsustainable, as 5G and fibre deployments are important for many of the EU economic and societal ambitions but are capital-intensive projects that require a sufficient return on investment to be attractive at a time when traditional revenue streams are under threat.
The EU, which sees connectivity as crucial to many of its economic and social ambitions, has indicated it agrees and believes a direct form of contribution would be the most palatable form of intervention.
Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Telefonica are among the other signatories in what is the biggest intervention by the industry to date ahead the expected publication of an EU proposal into the matter and amid rising costs.
“5G and fibre deployments are important for many of the EU economic and societal ambitions but are capital-intensive projects that require a sufficient return on investment to be attractive at a time when traditional revenue streams are under threat,” the statement, seen by Reuters, reads.
While big tech will unsurprisingly push back against such a model, there is also some resistance from mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) who argue they will be collateral damage.
Industry body MVNO Europe says any legislation would not just subject its members be subject to additional costs, the funds they would pay would be used to strengthen the position of incumbent operators, making it more difficulty to compete. This would not only have an impact on price, but would also make it unfeasible for many niche MVNOs to offer their services.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.