By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A majority of EU countries have rejected a push by Europe’s big telecoms operators to force Big Tech to help fund the rollout of 5G and broadband in the region, people familiar with the matter said.
Telecoms ministers from 18 countries either rejected or criticised the proposed network fee levy on tech firms at a meeting with EU industry chief Thierry Breton in Luxembourg on Thursday, the sources said.
That echoed comments made last month by EU telecoms regulators’ group BEREC.
Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and Telecom Italia want Big Tech to shoulder part of the network costs and have found a receptive ear in the European Commission’s industry chief Breton, a former chief executive of France Telecom and French IT consulting firm Atos.
Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc, Meta Platforms Inc, Netflix Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp have rejected the idea of a levy, saying that they invest in the digital ecosystem.
The ministers cited the lack of an analysis on the effects of a network levy, the absence of an investment gap and the risk of Big Tech passing on the extra cost to consumers in the form of higher prices, the people said.
They also warned about the potential violation of EU net neutrality rules which require all users to be treated equally, barriers to innovation, and a lower quality of products.
The critics included Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta and the Netherlands, the people said.
Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary and Italy backed the idea while Poland, Portugal and Romania either took a neutral stance or had not adopted a position, they said.
Breton is expected to issue a report by the end of June with a summary of feedback provided by Big Tech, telecoms providers and others which will indicate his next steps.
Any legislative proposal needs to be negotiated with EU countries and EU lawmakers before it can become law.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)