EU flags in front of building

EU net neutrality ‘undermined’ by Big Tech’s money, activists warn

Image credit: Photo 132267393 © VanderWolfImages |

Digital rights advocates have expressed concerns regarding the European Union’s plans to allow Big Tech firms to contribute to the costs of building telecommunications infrastructure.

A group of 34 NGOs from 17 countries have warned that a decision from the EU to force tech companies Google, Meta and Netflix to make financial contributions to the cost of building and running mobile and broadband networks would threaten the principles of an open Internet.

The EU has long defended the importance of net neutrality laws that forbid service providers from prioritising certain applications beyond standard traffic management measures and from charging content providers for additional fees for the preferential treatment.

However, last month, Europe's digital chief Margrethe Vestager suggested a possible shift in policy that will ensure Big Tech firms contribute to the cost of building 5G and fibre infrastructure - something for which telecoms operators have long been lobbying.

The open letter criticising the decision was addressed to Vestager and signed by EU industry chief Thierry Breton, as well as organisations including European Digital Rights, Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Article 19 and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"Charging content and application providers for the use of internet infrastructure would undermine and conflict with core net neutrality protections in the European Union," the groups said.

Telcos have frequently expressed their frustration that companies such as Google, Netflix, Amazon Apple, Meta and Microsoft - which account for half of global data traffic - are subject to different regulations and have benefitted from investments in fibre and cellular infrastructure, while operators are forced to ensure there is enough capacity to meet demand.

However, digital rights activists fear that such a measure will weaken the principles of an open internet. 

The group has compared the move to decisions taken by the Trump administration to give more control to internet service providers over online content, weakening net neutrality principles in the US. 

"The EU's net neutrality law allows Europeans to use the bandwidth they buy from their ISPs however they want – whether for Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, or for a small local site or service," the group said.

"Thus, European telecom companies are already compensated by their own internet service customers for transporting this data over their access networks; they simply want to be paid twice for the same service."

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