Should Gafam be charged for bandwidth?

This is an idea that appears quite often, but this time it comes from public authorities. The European Commission has already adopted one of the historical demands of telecom companies to charge Google and others for the use of their networks.

“A handful of players on their own take up more than 50% of the world’s bandwidth. Now is the time to reorganize the fair rewards of networks »He unveiled Brussels’ future reform of digital technology, Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Single Market, said in early May.

57% of global traffic

The arguments of telecom operators are well established. “Today, we have an asymmetry between the data we receive from the American digital giants, Google, Facebook or Netflix, and on the other hand that we send to the other side of the Atlantic.”notes Alessandro Grobelli, Deputy Director General of the European Association of Telecom Operators (ETNO).

Data-intensive video drives more than half of the traffic

The data traffic that spreads over the bandwidth to reach our Internet boxes or our smartphones is concentrated in the hands of a handful of companies, almost all of them American. Google, Facebook, Netflix, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft alone account for 57% of global traffic. This is mainly due to the fact that video, which is extremely data-dense, is the source of more than half of the traffic. Thus, YouTube, the subsidiary of Google, or Facebook, whose news feed is uploaded with video, Netflix obviously occupies 45% of the bandwidth in the world.

Above all, data traffic continues to increase. It has multiplied by more than ten in a decade. In particular are the tools needed to capture the attention of the digital giants. Like the default autoplay of videos from Facebook, YouTube or Netflix, which increases the traffic that telecom operators have to manage next.

“In the European market, there is a very heavy use of networks by the digital giants and this generates a cost that network operators will not recover.Alessandro Grobelli explains. Trade relations are also very lopsided, and European telecom operators are much smaller compared to the digital giants. »

Orange is certainly a big French company, but in the face of Google, the former France Telecom looks like a Lilliputian.

Winning both

So ETNO, the communications lobby, is demanding that the major content providers contribute financially to the maintenance of the networks. Concretely, Facebook will pay SFR for the latter to route the social network’s data. “What is new is not this argument, but the fact that the European Commission has embraced it”Patrick Miley and Bruno Tuvin, respectively Professor at IMT Atlantique and Director of Research at Inria, decide.

The sector does not have the obvious financial health of the American digital giants, but it remains a profitable industry

Orange, Deutsche Telekom, or SFR, are they really the turkeys in the farce of the digital economy? “Digital giants are also network players. On the one hand, they store data as close as possible to users, and on the other hand, for the largest of them, they spread their own cables”Patrick Miley and Bruno Toffin weigh in. For example, Google has many submarine cables connecting continents as well as a network that is involved in the interconnection of countries, especially European countries. In 2021, for example, it opened the cable connecting Virginia Beach, Virginia, to St. Helier-de-Ries, in Vendee.

Beyond that, the fundamental question remains who should pay for the deployment and maintenance of telecom networks.

“End consumers are already paying for the bandwidth, ISPs sell them a package that matches the size of the tube, and internet users expect to be able to use it no matter what content they watch.point to Patrick Miley and Bruno Toffin. By wanting to make content providers pay, it’s a bit like telecom operators wanting to have it both ways. »

Admittedly, the sector does not have the brazen financial health of the American digital giants, but it remains a profitable industry.

Neutrality problem

But, above all, it made content providers pay to question the web’s founding principle: its neutrality. This states that networks must ensure equal treatment and routing of any data, regardless of its sender or recipient.

“It all depends on how tangibly this financial contribution is made.believes Benjamin Bayart, co-founder of La quadrature du Net. If it is the commission that imposes a tax and decides to make investments in telecom infrastructure, there is no problem with neutrality. But if it is a private legal contract between operators and content providers, then there will necessarily be counterparties and this changes the balance of the telecom economy. Neutrality would be questioned. »

On the other hand, The idea of ​​financing the network from Gafam [acronyme regroupant Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon et Microsoft, NDLR] It has no economic sense, a company like Orange will be devalued, as it will schematically become a provider of optical fibers for Netflix, Judge Benjamin Bayart, who is also president of the Federation of Unionized Internet Service Providers (FFDN). Thus, Netflix will be encouraged to increase investment in the network to move closer to subscribers and do away with Orange services. »

In short, if the desire to tax digital giants finds many arguments in its favour, because the tax evasion strategies of these companies are important, then the envisaged financial leverage is left in doubt in terms of appropriateness and potential effects.

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