This policy brief contributes to the discussion about the importance of maintaining an open internet, where information, ideas, and culture can flow freely. It was prompted by the European Commission’s currently ongoing, exploratory consultation on the future of the connectivity sector, launched in the midst of the renewed debate over introducing a “network fee,” i.e., a proposed mechanism of direct payments from content providers and other tech companies to network providers (the so-called “fair share proposal”).
In this brief, we examine the part of the consultation questionnaire devoted to the “Fair contribution by all digital players.” We outline the main arguments raised in support and opposition to the idea of network fees, including the argument that it would challenge the principle of net neutrality. We point to the limits of the current criticism. We also show why the commitment to ensuring fair and proportionate contributions to the costs of public goods, services, and infrastructures made by the EU in the European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade should not be read as providing a basis for introducing network fees. We argue that targets for digital transformation should be tackled through taxation and subsequent public support for investment into sustainable infrastructure that fosters interoperability rather than mandatory direct transfers of money between powerful private actors.
The brief posits that the struggle to maintain an unfettered exchange of information online is taking place not just at the network level but also within the domain of internet platforms and in the space occupied by content and application providers. To that end, we put forward the concept of Digital Public Space – as a framework to conceptualize ecosystems existing outside the control of commercial entities and provide fora for public and private exchanges, information access, and civic organization tools and interoperability – as one of its design principles.