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Dutch warn against internet toll as EU looks to Big Tech to fund networks

The Netherlands on Monday warned against hitting Big Tech with a so-called internet toll to help pay for billions of euros in network investments, saying such a move may breach net neutrality rules and lead to price hikes for Europeans.

The comments by Dutch Economic Affairs Minister Micky Adriaansens marked the first by an EU country after EU industry chief Thierry Breton kicked off a consultation last Thursday on who should foot the bill to roll out costly 5G and broadband.

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, Telecom Italia and other operators have long lobbied for a Big Tech contribution and have found an ally in Breton, a former chief executive at Orange.

Among the companies that said an internet tax would undermine EU rules to treat all users equally are Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc, Meta Platforms Inc, Netflix Inc, Inc and Microsoft Corp. These companies account for more than half of data internet traffic, according to telecom operators.

Adriaansens said the Dutch government had commissioned a study by economic consultancy Oxera which showed the drawbacks of such a tax.

“It will penalise the consumers,” she told Reuters in an interview, saying that consumers who pay subscription fees to telecoms providers and also subscribe to streaming and video services may see the latter fees go up with Big Tech likely to pass on the internet tax.

“We should analyse the problem first and what the normal market reaction is to these challenges. The first one is the government in place to facilitate or are there other funds available or is it just the markets’ responsibility to take care of this infrastructure?” Adriaansens said.

“I think that there is this concern that our infrastructure is not able to meet our expectations and our ambitions. So I understand that concern but I don’t think that this is the way to go then, so fast,” she said.

According to Oxera’s study, Europe’s telecoms providers have not been burdened with higher network costs despite the strong growth in internet data traffic. Oxera also found that these companies’ operating profits have been boosted by network modernisation which has led to fewer employees and lower capital costs.

“Our analysis of the proposals for a levy shows that such a policy cannot robustly be shown to increase economic efficiency, and would potentially bring substantial transaction and set-up costs,” the report said. Reuters

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