Orange Group CEO Christel Heydemann and Brendan Carr, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), called on technology giants to contribute a “fair” share to broadband infrastructure costs, arguing such companies are driving a need for continued upgrades and have disproportionately benefitted from telecom investments to date. Their comments, made at an event hosted by the Financial Times this week, come as regulators in the U.S., European Union and South Korea weigh rule changes which would force the likes of Alphabet, Amazon, Meta and Netflix to pay telcos for the large amounts of traffic they generate.
Speaking during a keynote, Heydemann questioned whether the current arrangement between telecoms and tech companies is sustainable, noting internet traffic is growing “30 to 40% annually while telecom revenues are based mostly on flat rates.” She added a majority of traffic – 55% – is now driven by just six companies: Meta, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix.
The request was simple…
Heydemann called on the E.U. to implement a “fairer system” in which large traffic emitters pay fees to operators to help pay for network maintenance and upgrades.
This question always brings me back to working for a broadband provider (aka ISP) in the 1990s. There were larger fees for website that got more traffic and really big websites were collocated with our servers so in some ways they did pay more but it wasn’t a lot more.
It is true that providers are the ones making the investment in infrastructure. (Although plenty of government money helps subsidize growth.) And it does seem like the broadband providers are not the ones who are benefiting they way some larger retailers or media companies are.
But there are some slippery slopes when you start asking some people to pay more, especially to make their websites more available. (And it’s more than websites but for simplification of discussion, I’m going to ay website.) It opens the door to a fast track for some website, which by default means others are on a slow track. It gives the companies with money a great advantage. Another door opens to talking about broadband as a utility, which is another long-lasting discussion. Should we treat the Internet as a utility?
Another angle, should we penalize the websites that encourage greater broadband adoption? Because learning how to stream movies gets a person one step closer to telehealth and that could save everyone money in the end.
Sometimes these new ideas have long roots. It’s often valuable to relook at the suggestions but at least as valuable to look at the old arguments.