- Working groups
Brussels, 2 May 2022 – Today, tech giants do not contribute a fair share to the deployment of telecom networks, while generating network-related costs of tens of billion euros. This weakens Europe’s capacity to swiftly achieve connectivity targets. Addressing this through policy action could unlock socio-economic benefits for Europe, including €72bn GDP growth, an additional 840k jobs in 2025 and cuts to CO₂ emissions.
The findings have been published today in the report “Europe’s internet ecosystem: socio-economic benefits of a fairer balance between tech giants and telecom operators”, prepared by international consulting firm Axon Partners Group Consulting for leading telecom association ETNO.
The problem: is everybody contributing their fair share?
Europe has the objective to achieve gigabit connectivity and 5G for all by 2030. The report shows that European telcos have invested over €500bn in fixed and mobile networks in the past 10 years. On the contrary, the top 6 tech giants have generated over 55% of all telecom networks’ traffic, but they have made “little or no financial contribution to the development of national networks”.
The report finds that European telcos are currently unable to recover these costs due to asymmetric bargaining power favouring big tech as well as the lack of a level regulatory playing field: essentially, Internet traffic markets are unbalanced. The report also refers to newly unveiled data by consulting firm Frontier Economics, which estimates that traffic driven by tech giants alone could generate network costs of at least €15bn, if considering incremental costs, or of at least €36bn, if considering total costs.
The consequences: slower 5G/FTTH roll-out, suboptimal QoS, more CO₂
The report shows that this unbalance has consequences. First, this contributes to making European telcos financially weaker, which impairs their ability to speed up gigabit roll-out: for example, the total market capitalization of Europe’s top 8 telcos is €0,24tn, as opposed to €7.11tn for the top 6 tech giants. Second, Quality of Service and innovation could be improved with more investment. Last, in absence of meaningful contributions by tech giants, the shift to greener networks is slower, with impacts on CO₂ emissions.
A fairer ecosystem: a €72bn GDP growth with positive social and environmental impacts
Axon estimates that, taking as a reference an illustrative annual contribution of €20bn to network costs by tech giants, the European Internet ecosystem could unlock significant opportunities. Up to €72bn could be added to GDP and 840k jobs created in 2025. Similarly, energy consumption for the sector could be reduced by 28% and the carbon footprint would shrink by as much as 94%.
Possible solutions: regulatory action to address unbalanced IP markets
Urgent and targeted regulatory action is required to address serious imbalances in Internet traffic markets and unlock socio-economic opportunities for citizens and businesses. This should be done within the framework of Europe’s Open Internet principles, while ensuring that all consumers continue to benefit from the full extent of ever-evolving network access and quality.
According to the Report, solutions could build on introducing a clear obligation to negotiate with Internet Service Providers. This would help ensure the fairness of commercial negotiations with big tech companies, who currently enjoy disproportionate bargaining power. The measures would be in the spirit of the newly established Digital Markets Act, while potentially building on principles in existing EU frameworks such as: the Electronic Communications Code, the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive and dispute resolution mechanisms (e.g. the ADR in the Copyright Directive or in the EU approach to Essential Patents).
Comments by ETNO and Axon
Lise Fuhr, Director General of ETNO, said: “The EU has been determined in tackling power imbalances in the online and tech space. With today’s report, we want to launch an open dialogue with policymakers, consumers and tech companies on how to address the specific imbalances in internet traffic markets. This is not a technical issue: it is about our ability to put Europe at the forefront of the global 5G and FTTH race”.
Alfons Oliver, Partner of Axon, said: “The European Commission has recently acknowledged the need to develop adequate frameworks for tech firms to contribute their fair share to the development of telecoms infrastructure. Time has now come for EU legislators to make it happen, unlocking the important benefits this will bring to European society”.