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Euro-telcos call on big tech to help pay for their network builds

Aka 'rebalancing global technology giants and the European digital ecosystem'

The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) has published a letter signed by ten telco CEOs that calls for, among other things, Big Tech to pay for their network builds.

The letter, signed by the CEOs of the Vodafone Group, BT Group, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, Orange Group and five more telco leaders, calls for a "renewed effort to rebalance the relationship between global technology giants and the European digital ecosystem".

"A large and increasing part of network traffic is generated and monetized by Big Tech platforms, but it requires continuous, intensive network investment and planning by the telecommunications sector," the letter states, adding "This model – which enables EU citizens to enjoy the fruits of the digital transformation – can only be sustainable if such platforms also contribute fairly to network costs."

The letter also calls for "Strong political buy-in to ensure that regulatory action fosters investment in gigabit networks, which will require €300bn additional investment". Again, the context is "telecom operators compete face-to-face with services by big tech". And Big Tech does not pay for spectrum or need to comply with the numerous laws binding carriers. Or, often, pay tax.

Carriers everywhere have never quite been able to reconcile why they have so spectacularly failed at upselling customers to the kind of services that provide rivers of gold for Netflix, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, and other tech giants.

The idea that Big Tech profits from carriers, and should therefore help telcos build their networks, therefore pops up from to time without ever getting much more traction than South Korea's efforts to have Netflix pay mobile carriers for all the traffic its videos create.

Netflix has told South Korea it thinks providing ISPs with a bandwidth-saving content delivery network is a fair contribution, and seems willing to see what the courts think of that argument.

Big Tech almost always ignores telcos' calls for co-investment in networks, with one exception: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have all invested in submarine cables to haul their data across oceans. Doing so can save them money because they also reserve some capacity on those cables, avoiding future transit charges. Examples of such generosity to landlubbing carriers is harder to find.

The ten signatories to this letter have wrapped themselves in the European flag, citing their role in pursuing the EU Digital Decade targets and therefore contributing to the advancement of the European economy. Even climate change gets a mention: the carriers quote data suggesting wider technology adoption could trim CO2 emissions by 15 per cent.

At the time of writing, Big Tech and regulators are yet to respond to the letter. The Register will follow the story in case their ripostes are newsworthy. ®

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