EU proposes Gigabit Infrastructure Act and wants Big Tech to chip in

24 Feb 2023

Commissioner for the internal market Thierry Breton. Image: Claudio Centonze

Internal market chief Thierry Breton said ‘everyone, everywhere’ in the EU should have high-speed internet.

The European Commission has unveiled new measures to boost high-speed connectivity and invest billions in the continent’s telecoms network.

The Gigabit Infrastructure Act is a proposal adopted yesterday (23 February) which aims to ensure all EU citizens have access to fast and secure connectivity by establishing new rules that will accelerate the rollout of gigabit networks.

With increasing advances being made in areas such as the metaverse, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and augmented and virtual reality, there is a significant need to upgrade EU network infrastructure to meet growing demand for higher speed internet.

The act will replace the existing Broadband Cost Reduction Directive of 2014. It comes alongside a controversial consultation that seeks to explore the possibility of Big Tech companies such as Google, Meta and Microsoft to chip into the significant investments.

“The aim is to gather views on the changing technological and market landscape and how it may affect the sector for electronic communications,” the Commission wrote in a statement.

“In this context, the exploratory consultation is part of an open dialogue with all stakeholders about the potential need for all players benefitting from the digital transformation to fairly contribute to the investments in connectivity infrastructure.”

Acknowledging that this is a “complex issue”, the Commission said that it is committed to “protecting a neutral and open internet” even if Big Tech is made to pay for some of the infrastructure costs.

EU internal market chief Thierry Breton said that the latest measures seek to ensure “everyone, everywhere” in the EU has access to fast and secure connectivity – a feat that requires high investments.

“That is why, in addition to facilitating network deployment in the short term, we are exploring the important question of who should pay for the next generation of connectivity infrastructure,” he said.

“This includes whether platforms should share the cost of investment in next generation connectivity with telco operators.”

Meta expressed its disapproval of the move swiftly.

“Meta invests tens of billions of dollars in our apps and platforms every year to facilitate the hosting of content, creating enormous value across the digital ecosystem,” a spokesperson said, according to Reuters.

“By not recognising that value flows both ways between telecoms companies and content-hosting platforms, this consultation is based on a false premise.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic