Network fee: the new attack on the open Internet

A major attack on net neutrality is currently underway at the EU level using the slogan "Fair Share". Under this term, the telecommunications industry wants to massively increase its profits. Major telecom companies are demanding that in the future online content providers should pay for their services to be accessed on the network of telecom providers. This would mean paying twice for the same data, since we all already pay money for our Internet connections and, according to net neutrality, also have the right to access any data from anywhere in the world. So we are talking about an additional fee for something we already pay for today. It would be as if the sender of a letter had to give the postwoman extra money for delivery, even though the letter is already paid for with the stamp - absurd.

Hustling by the telecommunications industry

The term "fair share" should actually be "network fee". That's because the telecoms industry only came up with it to put a friendly face on its digital highway robbery. Once again, it is threatening nothing less than net neutrality. This endangers the diversity of opinion, because if content only reaches users after they have paid twice, this means that whoever has money has the sovereignty of opinion on the Internet.

As early as 10 years ago, the telecommunications industry called for network charges with the slogan Sending Party Pays. However, this was rejected by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as a fire hazard. Now the European Commission wants to hold a new consultation on the introduction of pass-through charges for content providers at the beginning of next year, thus supporting the telecom lobby's proposal. The arguments are as unsubstantiated as they are transparent, just as they were back then.

Position paper against a new-old attack

In a joint paper written by epicenter.works and supported by a total of nine NGOs, we summarize all the myths of the telecom industry on this topic and counter them with facts and arguments. The paper is aimed at everyone who is confronted with these claims. It is therefore a reading recommendation for all interested people, members of parliament, government employees and journalists.

It is particularly explosive that until recently zero-rating was offered in almost all EU countries by telecom companies. In doing so, precisely the data of large tech companies was offered to customers free of charge, thus actively promoting the same data consumption that is supposedly clogging up the networks in Europe today and for which extra money is now being demanded.

The driving factor is the greed of the telecoms groups

Because society is unlikely to like it when telecom companies with multi-billion revenues demand more money, the industry argues that the money is needed for network expansion. In our paper, we prove with several studies by regulatory authorities that money is not the bottleneck in the faltering network expansion, but rather a lack of civil engineering capacities and long approval procedures. The money will probably be spent 1:1 on the dividends and bonuses of the corporations.

Besides, the best network is of no use to us if we lose net neutrality. As Tim Wu said:

Giving up net neutrality to afford a better internet
is like selling a painting to afford a better frame.

Shot at the big ones and killed the little ones

The telecom industry argues, of course, that these fees can be designed in such a way that they only affect the big tech corporations. As our paper makes clear, this is not the case. Since larger cloud and CDN providers will also be asked to pay, the new fee will also hit many medium-sized companies, public institutions and even the education sector. The entire gaming industry would be affected. Public service media offerings often take up more bandwidth than American streaming providers in many EU countries, and if their hosting costs go up, so will the broadcasting fees of all households. And those with subscriptions to Netflix, Disney+ or other popular streaming providers can expect higher monthly fees. Basically, this is a redistribution away from society as a whole to the telecom industry. Particularly in times of inflation and a stagnating economy, this is a brazen proposal in view of the billions in profits made by the telecoms industry. If Digital Commissioner Thierry Breton hadn't previously been head of France Telekom, we wouldn't be able to explain how the EU Commission could fall for this.

The free internet is at stake

The protest has been growing in recent months. While the telecoms industry is flexing its lobbying muscles in Brussels and EU capitals, net activists and consumer advocates have taken a stand. We already spoke out in June with a global civil society letter. BEUC, the umbrella organization of all consumer protection organizations, has taken a clear position. Even the neutral regulators BEREC have rejected the false assumptions of this proposal in a scathing paper. The paper we have just recently presented to aid argumentation in the debate is a further step towards recapturing this dangerous debate for all household incomes in Europe.

Since you're here

… we have a small favour to ask. When governments constantly demand new surveillance measures, collect more and more data about us, or when corporations increase their profits at our expense, we start campaigns, write analyses or demand our rights in the courts. For all of this we need your support. Help us form a strong voice for civil society!

Donate now!