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EU executive eyes Big Tech’s money to save 5G

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The European Union is working to revamp its flailing 5G rollout and has Big Tech’s largest platforms in its crosshairs to help cover the cost.

The European Commission plans to present a new Connectivity Infrastructure Act in the fall, a spokesperson from the institution told POLITICO.

The law is a response to concerns in the telecoms sector and beyond that the bloc’s introduction of 5G telecoms communication is sputtering and the EU risks missing its self-imposed targets to connect EU citizens with mobile and high-speed internet.

But the idea to get Big Tech to chip in to ease the burden on telecoms operators has also kicked off a fierce lobbying fight that has pitched Big Tech against Big Telecoms in Brussels.

It will include measures that oblige certain online platform services to contribute to the costs of 5G, an official said on condition of anonymity, adding it will also outline new efforts to lower the costs of broadband deployment.

A Commission spokesperson declined to comment on whether the upcoming act will include direct obligations for platform giants to contribute to the costs of network infrastructure.

In a letter sent to Vestager and Breton, five leading members of the EU Parliament called on the Commission to step up their efforts to remove hurdles that prevent the telecoms industry from investing in infrastructure | Pool photo by Virginia Mayo/AFP via Getty Images

The EU executive’s chief officials on digital policy, Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager and Commissioner Thierry Breton hinted at the plans in recent weeks. In an interview last month, Breton told Les Echos newspaper that telecoms operators weren’t getting “the right return on investment” from maintaining the networks, and it was time “to reorganise the fair remuneration of the networks.”

The new proposal will include a revision of the 2014 Broadband Cost Reduction Directive (BCDR) under “the current working title Connectivity Infrastructure Act,” the Commission spokesperson said. It will put into law guidelines outlined in the 2020 Connectivity Toolbox that the EU published to help countries speed up fiber and 5G deployment. The proposal will be accompanied by a recommendation on Very High Capacity Networks (VHCN) and a revision of the broadband state aid guidelines,

In a letter sent to Vestager and Breton last week and obtained by POLITICO, five leading members of the European Parliament from center-left to right groups called on the Commission to step up their efforts to remove hurdles that prevent the telecoms industry from investing in infrastructure and to incentivize “the roll-out of high-speed electronic communications networks” in Europe.

And European governments have also been supportive of the Commission’s intentions, writing in a joint position in May that “all market actors benefiting from the digital transformation” should assume their social responsibilities and “make a fair and proportionate contribution to the costs of public goods, services and infrastructures,” according to a text seen by POLITICO.

Others have warned the Commission not to force tech firms to cover the costs of struggling telecom operators directly.

Browser creator and digital rights advocate group Mozilla sent a letter sent to Vestager and Breton last week, warning the Commission was potentially endangering net neutrality and Europe’s open internet principles.

“We are alarmed by recent reports that suggest the European Commission is considering new rules that would oblige certain online service providers to make dedicated financial contributions to telecommunications network operators,” the letter, signed by Mozilla Vice President of Advocacy Ashley Boyd, said.

This article has been updated.

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