The Dutch government has hit out against the European Union's proposal to make big technology companies pay for the bandwidth they use on telecoms networks, warning that consumers will end up losing out.

Mary Lennighan

February 27, 2023

3 Min Read
Lots of various Euro cash notes covering the photo.

The Dutch government has hit out against the European Union’s proposal to make big technology companies pay for the bandwidth they use on telecoms networks, warning that consumers will end up losing out.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy of the Netherlands has published a statement to that effect, accusing telecoms operators of wanting “to get paid twice,” by charging the Internet companies for carriage.

The EU’s recently-launched consultation into the idea of making the Internet giants contribute to network investment was always going to be a hot topic at Mobile World Congress 2023. By sharing such strong opposition to the proposal on day one of the show, the Dutch government has only added fuel to the fire.

The European Commission opened its much-discussed consultation into infrastructure investment last week, its goal being to gauge opinion on what infrastructure Europe needs to spend money on in order to lead the digital transformation, and how those investments should take place. Within that comes the concept of making Internet companies pay – there has been talk of the creation of some sort of fund for 5G and fibre networks that the likes of Google, Amazon, Netflix and so forth would have to pay into, for example – and funnily enough that’s the bit that has captured all the headlines.

And gives rise to some strongly-worded and diametrically-opposed views, some of which are doubtless being expressed on the show floor in Barcelona right now, as well as occupying the thoughts of the Dutch government.

“Telecom operators want to get paid twice with an extra EU Internet toll. A consumer chooses whether or not to subscribe to streaming and video services like Netflix, Spotify, Viaplay or YouTube. Moreover they pay subscription costs to the telecom provider for this as well. Consumers are likely expected to pay more for streaming services, because these companies will pass on extra costs, in whole or in part, to their customers,” said Minister Micky Adriaansens of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy of the Netherlands.

In addition we believe that an Internet toll might not be compatible with net neutrality,” she said.

We have heard these arguments before from various parties opposed to the idea of charging those peddling the content for its carriage; this debate has been raging – on and off – for years, after all. But that doesn’t make them any less valid now.

The argument that the telcos are looking to get paid twice doesn’t hold much water, given that they have been offering more data for less money for years, while facing the prospect of massive investment costs as demand continues to grow. However, surely the European Commission, which likes to pitch itself as a consumer champion, must listen to the argument that in trying the level the playing field for telecoms operators, it could well hit consumers in the wallet.

The Netherlands has committed to using the appropriate channels to get its point across. It will contribute a piece of research to the consultation, having commissioned economists to look into whether the proposed plan to charge big tech will actually boost network investments.

“That doesn’t seem to be the case,” Adriaansens said.

That perhaps constitutes the strongest argument of all against the European Commission proposal.

“All things considered, the Netherlands argues that this is not the right way to realize the EU Digital ambitions. It’s imperative that any policy affecting the Internet ecosystem is evidence-based and is putting the consumer first,” Adriaansens said.

Surely she’s preaching to the choir in Brussels on that last point.


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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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