A necessary debate for the future benefit of European citizens
While much has been written about the Fair Share debate, the majority of this comment has focused on a range of issues including the problem we are trying to address, the proposed solution, and the economic models of telcos and the large traffic originators. What’s often lost in this back-and-forth is the benefits we believe Fair Share will unlock for citizens and businesses in Europe.
When operators raised this issue, all start from a reality: telecom infrastructure is the basis of the economy and the digital ecosystem. Having the right connectivity infrastructures not only for the present, but also for the future, is essential to ensure the competitiveness of European companies and the well-being of European citizens. The Commission also understood this when it set out the objectives of the Digital Decade.
The EU’s Digital Decade targets are ambitious and need hugely expanded investment to make them a reality. With the recent opening of the public consultation last month, this is the right time to take a step back and put Fair Share into the broader context of European connectivity, because this is at the heart of what we are proposing.
Ensuring the prosperity and quality of life for European citizens
Digitalization is going to shape the next decade across the EU, with the benefits of world-class connectivity enjoyed by all EU citizens. We all know that secure, reliable, and advanced connectivity enables economic growth and innovation.
But as more and more social and economic activities move into the digital space, the benefits of this digital rollout go even further, beyond economic growth. Very high-capacity networks enable a huge range of new technologies and make these a reality for Europeans, which will deliver huge improvements in all areas of life. Other parts of the world are already well on track towards this future, preparing their economies to leverage new technologies to the benefit of their citizens.
It is clear that we do not yet fully understand all the potential in advanced connectivity. The innovation spurred by the advent of 4G took time to become reality. We are just at the beginning of this process for 5G.
The benefits of connectivity for society
Currently, there are some clear implications emerging. We are rapidly moving towards a world where advanced connectivity will allow for advanced personal health. Wearables, skin sensors and in-body sensors will monitor our health allowing us to respond in real-time. This will prevent diseases, taking pressure off national health systems.
Metaverse environments will become commonplace. Avatars could go shopping for a coat in a virtual shopping mall or attend class in a school that no longer consists of brick-and-mortar walls. Immersive environments in the industry (digital twins) will enable increased efficiency and energy savings in operations.
The Internet of Things will no longer be associated with turning off your appliances from your phone. It will take on a new level of complexity. It will monitor the performance of machines or the stability of buildings in real-time, predicting problems and performing proactive maintenance.
The autonomous car may make it possible to achieve the goal of reducing the number of traffic fatalities per year in Europe from the current 18,000 to zero.
Quantum computing and advanced connectivity will also allow for improved weather forecasts and food security as it is much more able to factor in the many variables in this complex environmental system in which we are currently living in.
Europe’s future quality of life depends on access to very high-capacity networks. Our continent’s prosperity and competitiveness depend on how quickly we invest and how it is regulated to ensure all parties pay their fair share.
A fair share solution which guarantees European connectivity and advanced technology
Collectively and enabled by their customers, telecoms operators have invested €500 billion over the past decade to ensure every European citizen, every consumer can benefit from digitalization to the fullest, and no one is left behind. Looking ahead, this won’t be enough.
The current challenge is that only one side is paying for this: consumers. Digitalization is being slowed down by a payment model that is placing undue burden on consumers to fund the additional investment needed. The debate opened by Telco operators is about the fairness of putting all the burden on consumers to help with continuous investment in the networks.
As operators, we have outlined a fair share solution which facilitates investments and protects European citizens:
- A contribution from other parties to the financing and sustainability of the connectivity infrastructure, in addition to the existing contributions from internet users.
- A solution based on the negotiation of operators with the small number of companies that generate most of the Internet traffic on the basis of fair and balanced conditions.
- Converting the connectivity infrastructure from a one-sided market to a two-sided market. Currently only citizens contribute for connectivity upgrades. In a two-sided market, which are very common in the digital world, large traffic generators would also pay for the traffic transport service provided by telecoms operators.
A future for the benefit of European citizens
The purpose of the Fair Share solution is to strengthen the sustainability of network investments and allow a faster rollout. It addresses the increased traffic demand from large traffic originators for the benefit of EU citizens and ensures that all parties are contributing their fair share.
The questioning of the operators’ proposal has usually not been accompanied by an alternative. Maintaining the current situation, as can be understood from questioning without an alternative, leads to the conclusion of preferring either not to face the challenge, denying European citizens the possibility of opting for the benefits of digitization, or preferring European users to bear all the costs associated with this process. It seems fairer to share these costs more equitably with other players, so that not everything falls on European citizens.
The debate on fair share is a necessary debate for the future benefit of European citizens. Tackling a fair share solution in Europe is urgent and essential to ensure the future welfare of European citizens and the competitiveness of the European economy.