Insights European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) publishes nine questions and answers on the “fair contribution’’ debate


ETNO says that in the past few months, lobbying groups linked to major tech companies have been promoting “a campaign against the “fair contribution” debate”. ETNO says that some of their sponsored content and targeted advertising on the issue “included misrepresentations of the issue and false claims on our position”. Accordingly, ETNO has published these questions and answers to explain its point of view on the subject.

  1. What is the “fair contribution” debate about? ETNO says that “fair contribution’’ refers to an EU policy debate on whether tech companies should contribute to the development of gigabit networks; the debate started in 2022, after publication of the European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles, which stated that “all market actors’’ should make a “fair and proportionate contribution” to the cost of infrastructure; ETNO then published a report arguing that contributions by tech giants to network costs would help achieve full 5G and fibre in Europe and therefore boost the EU’s GDP, create new jobs and reduce CO2 emissions; the EU has said that it would consult on whether tech giants should contribute, clarifying that the objective is to improve roll-out of innovative networks; other stakeholders have put forward critical views and a fully-fledged public consultation is therefore expected soon so that the merits of each argument can be properly evaluated;
  2. How would introducing a “fair contribution” help consumers? ETNO says that a fairer allocation of network costs could relieve pressure on consumer prices for communication services, which is the only way to meet investment needs for the transition to 5G and FTTH networks; tech giants generate disproportionate network costs with respect to consumers and monetise this through advertising and exploitation of personal data; it is only logical for tech giants to contribute to network roll-out, in ETNO’s view; further, consumers will see a faster roll-out of top quality networks, such as 5G and FTTH; despite high levels of telecom investment, roll-out is still too slow and private investment in Europe is still lower than that of global peers; there is also academic research that finds that, if done right, a fair contribution “can lead to lower overall prices and higher consumer welfare”;
  3. Has anybody asked to abandon the EU Open Internet Principles? ETNO says that, currently, no EU stakeholder, public or private, is asking to change Europe’s net neutrality principles; ETNO has publicly stated that it’s not asking to modify the EU Open Internet principles; ETNO notes that the European Commission has clarified that its approach to the fair contribution debate is in “full respect of EU net neutrality rules”;
  4. Why should tech giants pay if consumers are already paying a bill to operators? Consumers pay to access a full and unrestricted open internet, but tech giants are not just any user; tech giants are a small group of five or six global platforms and streamers, with huge market power, occupying roughly 50% of the total bandwidth of the whole internet; therefore, in ETNO’s view, “they ‘deplete’ an important public good, while not directly investing into national telecom networks”; this creates a deficit for telecom operators, who struggle to adequately monetise data traffic within the current market and regulatory context, but must invest in 5G and FTTH; this deficit could be addressed if tech giants paid a fair contribution reflecting the network costs generated by the delivery of their traffic to end users; ETNO says that this solution would be in line with similar practices in other two-sided markets, e.g. news and media markets;
  5. Aren’t tech giants already investing in connectivity? ETNO says that tech giants invest in their own products and services, not in access networks, as shown by recent figures; in 2021, tech giants invested around €1 billion in infrastructures such as large international and undersea routes, peering, transit and caching; an additional €16 billion invested by tech giants went to data centres; this investment by tech giants is not comparable, in terms of magnitude or complexity, to the investment that telecom networks have to make to reach millions of mobile users and households across Europe; in the same period, Europe’s total telecom investment reached €56.3 billion per year.
  6. Which stakeholder groups can benefit from a fair contribution? ETNO says that recent research shows that 45 million Europeans are at risk of not being reached by gigabit networks in 2030; this means that a fair contribution is relevant to all sectors of Europe’s economy and society, with particular regard to all those who rely on fast, secure and intelligent connectivity;
  7. Should broadcasters, creators or other companies worry? ETNO says no. It says that the “scaremongering by some lobbying groups should not distort an open policy debate with all stakeholders”; in ETNO’s view, fair contribution would only apply to the small number of powerful tech giants who generate huge amounts of traffic and constitute roughly 50% of global internet traffic; ETNO says that the problem does not lie in local cloud providers/content delivery networks, start-ups, broadcasting companies or other cultural and public interests;
  8. What about alternative and smaller telecom operators? ETNO says that the smaller and less powerful the company, the more relevant the fair contribution debate; if even major pan-European telecom companies struggle to negotiate with big tech, the smaller ones face even greater imbalances in negotiation power; ETNO says that smaller fibre providers have taken “a positive stance on fair contribution”;
  9. Are you proposing to “tax” tech giants? ETNO says no; ETNO is arguing for a commercial relationship that recognises a direct contribution by tech giants to network costs; telecom investment in Europe is driven by private investors, not by public funds; In ETNO’s view, “[t]o make a difference in achieving the EU Digital Decade targets we do not need a tax, or just more public funding. We need to urgently create better conditions for private investment”.

To read ETNO’s nine questions in answers in full, click here.