Just about a year ago on a sideline conversation during the Mobile World Congress, I had a chance to catch up briefly with an old friend from my days in Washington DC. When explaining him that we at Telefónica were convinced about the momentum for a conversation on a fair share from the largest traffic generators to the costs of deploying the network infrastructure, his answer was quite frank: I have seen this movie before, and it does not end well for you.
Why fair share is not a remake of an old blockbuster but a fresh multipurpose policy tool
A range of stakeholders try indeed to portray fair share as a debate held and closed ten years ago in Dubai during the ITU WCIT Summit. Needless to bring it back because nothing in the fundamentals of how the Internet works has changed during the last decade and we need to preserve it this way to keep it as the generative engine for openness, innovation, and prosperity it has always been.
Good enough as an argument except for the reality that Internet development during the last decade has taken us nowhere near to 2012 with an incredibly unbalanced digital ecosystem. A few numbers of almighty tech giants recap most of the value, riding on unprecedented levels of concentration, self-preferencing practices and business models based on the massive collection of data from end users for profiling and advertising purposes.
All while telecom operators in particular in Europe struggle against very dire financial and regulatory conditions in a decade long downward trend on revenues, return on capital expenditure and stock market value that threatens their future viability.
Fair share comes anew also in a very different policy landscape. With a European Commission that is moving from naive into geopolitical including clear aspirations on strategic autonomy and recognizing the need to develop its own capabilities in the digital space, where the gap with the US and China is profound and growing.
In this context fair share appears as a fresh multipurpose tool that could help to address a number of the most critical policy goals of the EU:
Digital Decade Targets
By generating a new source of revenue for European telecom operators, the EU institutions could ensure the accomplishment of the Digital Decade connectivity targets. Namely, having every household in the EU connected with gigabit capacity, having 5G coverage in every populated area and deploying 10.000 edge nodes by 2030.
Despite the current investment levels from telecom operators, a 300 bn euros gap has been identified to reach these goals.
We are talking about reverting a trend of passed and forthcoming under achievements (Lisbon Strategy, Digital Agenda targets, Gigabit Society targets) and truly delivering on the Pathway to the Digital Decade.
Strategic Autonomy and Competitiveness
Looking at the digital landscape in Europe is devastating with almost no major league player in any subsector and a declining set of telecom operators and equipment manufacturers.
Fair share would not be just a transfer of money from one sector of the Internet ecosystem to another. It would bring resources needed to fuel a radical transformation of the telecom networks in Europe based on edge computing and network as a service capability ready to support the new high quality and low latency services that Web3 and the immersive Internet will bring along and making a reality of the cloud computing to earth computing continuum.
We are referring to a once in a lifetime opportunity to recover digital leadership in Europe and build a successful story unheard of since the long-gone GSM standard era.
We are talking about making strategic autonomy a reality in Europe and increasing the competitiveness of its industrial fabric that would be able to benefit from the best underlaying connectivity platform in the world.
The EU has the legitimate aspiration of leaving no one behind in the digital transition. Fair share is about recognizing the two-sided market nature of the telecom business so that the major beneficiaries upstream of the use of the infrastructure contribute to its deployment instead of putting all the burden on the end users. These new resources are needed to ensure that best in class connectivity allows all citizens to enjoy the same access to health, education, banking, telework or leisure and social activities independently of where they live in the EU.
Accelerating digitalization in agriculture will open the door to new business opportunities and stimulate employment as farming and cattle activities become sustainable and more profitable.
We are talking about real cohesion avoiding an urban vs rural divide and helping to avoid the progressive depopulation of rural areas in the EU.
Digital Single Market
Fair share could be the catalizer of the transformation of telecom operators in Europe from telcos to techcos with state of the art, resilient and reliable interoperable network capabilities at the edge and at the core of their networks.
We are talking about developments in telco edge cloud and network as a service functionality that will facilitate the provision of pan European digital services fostering and promoting the development of the Digital Single Market.
For all of the above, it is clear that with fair share we are not about to re-view and old policy classic. So, my advice to my dear old friend, and all the digital policy wonks out there, is to grab your popcorn and take a front seat because a new exciting movie is about to start. And no, you do not know how it will end.