Fair Share? Tax Big Tech to address environmental sustainability of digital networks instead!

February 5, 2024

At Open Future we have been critical of the European Commission’s plans to make Big Tech pay Europe’s big telecom companies to supposedly contribute their “fair share” to the costs of deploying network infrastructure. Later this month, the Commission will present its “Connectivity Package on Digital Networks and Infrastructure”, which is expected to include a proposal for a Digital Networks Act, likely to be based on the telecom’s “fair share” proposal.

In light of this, it is good to see that we are not alone in opposing the idea of making one highly concentrated industry pay into the pockets of another in a way that would fundamentally undermine the principle of net neutrality. Last week – in a podcast interview – Laure de la Raudière, the president of the French telecom regulator Arcep, acknowledged that other EU countries do not support the senders-pay (a.k.a. fair share) principle. In her view, there is currently no market failure that needs to be addressed through regulation.

Perhaps more interesting is what she proposed instead. According to EURACTIV:

… she submitted the idea to “encourage accountability” of Big Tech on their environmental impact. Explaining that end nodes account for 80% of the environmental impact of digital, she pointed out that Big Tech should be held accountable for pushing citizens to use metaverse applications of very high-definition movies, which encourage people to renew their endpoints, leading to a more significant environmental impact. De la Raudière concluded that there should be a thorough analysis of possible side effects but that a new environmental tax should be considered.

And while De la Raudière seems primarily concerned with the environmental impact of consumer endpoints, this more explicit thinking about the environmental impact of technology policy fits nicely with our own ideas about ICT Energy Sustainability.

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