ISPs say US should force Big Tech companies to pay for broadband construction

The image of people fighting over money shows the hands of two people pulling at the ends of a stack of $20 bills.

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Internet service providers in the US and Europe are clamoring for new payments from Big Tech companies.

European broadband providers are much closer to realizing the long-standing goal of payments by tech companies, as the European Union government is holding an official consultation on the proposal. As the EU process unfolds, telecom lobby group USTelecom hopes to nudge the US down a similar but not quite identical path.

In a blog post on Friday, USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter argued that the biggest tech companies should contribute to a fund that subsidizes the construction of broadband networks. Spalter wrote that Amazon and internet companies like it should occupy what he called a “conspicuously empty seat at the collective table of high-speed global connectivity.”

Given that “six companies account for half of all global internet traffic… Does it still make sense for the government and broadband providers alone to fund this critical infrastructure? There is no shared obligation by the major financial beneficiaries of these networks, the world’s most powerful corporate Internet?” Spalter wrote.

“We need a modern recovery that shares these financial obligations more equally among those who benefit most from these connections,” he said.

USTelecom members include AT&T, Verizon, Lumen (formerly CenturyLink), Windstream, and other telecommunications companies. It is one of the largest trade groups lobbying for US based internet service providers.

USTelecom: Make tech companies pay the central fund

European telecom companies are pushing for direct payments from tech companies to ISPs. USTelecom instead wants deposits into a central government-run fund.

The Biden administration last month urged the EU to reject proposed forced payments by European ISPs, saying the plan “could give operators a new bottleneck vis-à-vis customers, increase costs for end users and alter incentives for CAP/LTG [content and application providers and large traffic generators] to make efficient decisions on investment and grid interconnection.”

The Biden administration has also said that payments from tech companies can violate net neutrality principles, saying “it is difficult to see how a system of mandatory payments imposed on only a subset of content providers could be enforced without compromising net neutrality.” of the network”.

Nonetheless, USTelecom pointed to the Biden administration’s comments in its proposal to charge Big Tech companies to a central fund like the current Universal Service Fund (USF) run by the Federal Communications Commission.

“We agree with the US government’s position that rather than payments to proposed EU broadband providers, such ‘publicly accountable’ funding schemes can better ensure that resources are dedicated to key policy objectives, such as improve access and strengthen network security, while avoiding discriminatory measures that distort competition,'” Spalter wrote.

Lots of opposition to Big Tech payments

However, the Biden administration’s comments did not require tech companies to put money into a government-run fund. The paper noted that “the US approach to financing broadband infrastructure improvements involves private investment, a national universal service fund, and significant public funding from general appropriations,” but did not advocate any changes to who pays in the bottom.

Meta, Google and Netflix have criticized Europe’s billing claims, saying ISPs are trying to charge twice for the same service. Big tech companies also point out that they invest heavily in content delivery networks that reduce the stress on ISP services.

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has taken a similar stance, saying it has found no evidence of “free-riding” by technology companies or evidence that ISP costs are not fully covered.

The Biden administration’s comments on the EU proposal also said that collecting revenue from online content providers could harm the global internet ecosystem. “We urge caution in case the EU considers any new funding mechanisms that could disrupt the current internet ecosystem, which has successfully adapted to evolving market and technological conditions over time. Internet traffic is globally, which raises questions about a country’s ability to raise revenue from foreign content providers; if many countries took this route it would likely be unsustainable,” the US government said.

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