Exclusive: EU's Breton plans consultation on Big Tech and telecoms network costs

Signature ceremony regarding the Chips Act at EU headquarters in Brussels
Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market speaks during a signature ceremony regarding the Chips Act at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 8, 2022. Virginia Mayo/Pool via REUTERS

STRASBOURG, Feb 14 (Reuters) - EU industry chief Thierry Breton is poised to launch a consultation on whether Big Tech should bear some telecoms network costs, he said on Tuesday ahead of a telecoms conference taking place in Barcelona from Feb. 27 to March 2.

EU telecoms providers including Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE), Orange (ORAN.PA), Telefonica (TEF.MC) and Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI) have for years sought to have Big Tech foot some infrastructure cost for 5G and broadband.

The telecoms companies say the six largest content providers - Meta (META.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Netflix Inc (NFLX.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Alphabet Inc's Google (GOOGL.O) - account for more than half of data internet traffic.

The tech giants say the idea amounts to an internet traffic tax that could undermine Europe's net neutrality rules to ensure all users are treated equally.

Asked when the consultation would be launched, Breton told Reuters: "Wait for my speech at Barcelona. Yes, I will announce it soon. At Barcelona."

The consultation is likely to take about 12 weeks before the European Commission will propose legislation that will need to be thrashed out by EU countries and EU lawmakers before it can become law.

Breton said he was confident the process could be wrapped up by the end of the year. "We will have time, yes," he said.

Announcing the start of the consultation at Barcelona is a strong signal to the telecoms sector of Breton's backing, a telecoms industry source said. It would be Breton's first appearance at an event traditionally attended by all major telecoms operators.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee Editing by David Goodman

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