Earlier this year, the European Commission started a new consultation on “The future of the electronic communications sector and its infrastructure.” On the one hand, it’s good that policymakers are examining how to expand broadband access and ensure the capacity of networks continues to expand and support helpful innovation. On the other hand, the consultation is anchored on one particular, problematic policy idea — a new legal right for telecom companies to require bonus payments from content and application providers, imposing new tolls for sending and “generating” traffic. Content and application providers would not just pay for their connection to the Internet (as they already do today), but then have to pay again in order to reach a consumer when the consumer requests data from them.
This sort of approach has long been advanced by incumbent telecom companies, opposed by virtually every other relevant constituency, and rejected repeatedly around the world. It would undermine open Internet access — sometimes called “net neutrality” — and replace today’s well-functioning system of payments with a regulated morass, where consumers will ultimately pay the price. Content and application providers (in particular smaller players) will either be impeded from delivering their traffic at all due to costs, or will pass the costs on to consumers themselves.
CC was pleased to join with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and Europeana Foundation in a submission opposing this misguided approach (read the full submission). We highlight the particular the impacts on knowledge and cultural heritage institutions:
“For the institutions and communities we support, these new tolls pose particular concerns. Knowledge and cultural institutions act as repositories for large amounts of data — we are responsible for collecting, storing, and making available all sorts of media and information to Europeans, often under public mandates. While an individual user may not make use of the entire catalog of information, collectively serving our communities can mean serving large amounts of data. Moreover, knowledge and cultural institutions serve academics and researchers who do require access to large amounts of the corpus for their public-interest activities.
We fear that, under this proposal, such institutions could be considered “large traffic generators” and forced to pay new fees. As public serving institutions, they already face significant budget strains, and new fees would inevitably mean limiting the services we provide, and using our resources to bolster the turnover of telecom operators rather than to deliver on our missions.
Yet it is important to note here that a simple carve-out for such institutions would not be sufficient. For one thing, the fees would still frustrate knowledge and cultural production and dissemination in ways that would run counter to the goal of encouraging artistic and expressive freedom, as well as having knock-on effects on us. What’s more, knowledge and cultural institutions may rely on commercial services to host and serve our traffic, and thus to the extent those providers would face new fees and pass those costs on, we would still be impacted.”
As we note in our submission, there are a wide variety of other ways to support open, robust, affordable internet access, including expanding access to spectrum for wireless services and community networks, modernization of universal service funding, and collaborating with knowledge and cultural institutions, which in some cases already work to provide Internet access to surrounding residents. We hope these and other ideas will become the focus as this consultation moves forward.