As ISPs seek payments from Big Tech, Google criticizes “sender-pays” model

As ISPs seek payments from Big Tech, Google criticizes “sender-pays” model
Enlarge / Google’s Matt Brittin, president of EMEA Business and Operations, speaks at the Web Summit on November 9, 2017, in Lisbon, Portugal.

Getty Images | Horacio Villalobos

Big Tech companies shouldn’t have to pay for Internet service providers’ network-upgrade costs, a Google executive said today amid a push in Europe to have tech companies pay for broadband expansions and improvements.

“Introducing a sender-pays principle is not a new idea, and would upend many of the principles of the open Internet. These arguments are similar to those we heard 10 or more years ago and we have not seen new data that changes the situation,” said Matt Brittin, president of Google’s EMEA business and operations.

Brittin spoke today in a keynote panel at the Tech and Politics Forum presented by Financial Times and telecom lobby group ETNO. Google provided Ars with a copy of his prepared remarks.

Brittin pointed out that Google already invests in network infrastructure “on our own and in collaboration with others,” reducing the strain on broadband network operators. “We carry traffic 99 percent of the way, bringing it closer to users and making it more efficient for our telco partners,” he said.

ISPs want Big Tech to pay

In November 2021, the CEOs of 13 large European telecom companies called on tech giants to pay for a portion of the Internet service providers’ network upgrade costs. “Large and increasing part of network traffic is generated and monetized by big tech platforms, but it requires continuous, intensive network investment and planning by the telecommunications sector,” the telco CEOs wrote in a joint letter. “This model—which enables EU citizens to enjoy the fruits of the digital transformation—can only be sustainable if such big tech platforms also contribute fairly to network costs.”

EU regulators are taking the idea seriously. “The European Union’s executive body will launch a consultation early next year on whether tech giants should bear some of the costs of Europe’s telecoms network,” Reuters wrote on September 9, citing a statement by EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton. “Breton said the consultation would be launched in the first quarter of 2023 and take five to six months,” and the European Commission will make proposals after that, Reuters wrote.

The new push to require payments from tech companies has been expected for months, and the idea drew protest from 54 members of the European Parliament (MEPs). “Large telecom companies have tried for decades to require compensation from content providers for providing access to customers, despite the fact that the telecom companies are already being paid by their own customers to provide access,” they wrote in a July 2022 letter.

Letting ISPs collect these payments “would reverse decades of successful Internet economics by requiring the providers of websites and applications to pay fees to ISPs that have never existed before,” and “abolish key net neutrality guarantees that Europeans fought hard for,” the letter said.

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