European lawmakers recently met to discuss the proposal of charging content and application providers (CAPs) a network fee for the traffic they generate. Out of the ministers present, 18 rejected this idea or demanded further investigation, reflecting a lack of consensus regarding this contentious issue.

The debate was sparked during the EU’s consultation called “the future of the electronic communications sector and its infrastructure,” which included a section on fair contribution. The majority of the ministers opposed the idea of a network fee, citing reasons such as insufficient analysis of the implications, no evidence of an investment shortfall, and the potential for CAPs to charge consumers higher prices to compensate for the additional fees.

Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Netflix argue that they already contribute to infrastructure through investments in data centers, content delivery networks, and cable systems. Charging subscribers an additional fee would be like charging them twice for the same content.

This view is also supported by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), which shared its preliminary opinion last October, stating there was no justification for “fair contribution.” BEREC expressed concerns about how such a fee might impact end-users, net neutrality, and competition between market players.

Additionally, BEREC warned that imposing a financial contribution on CAPs could hinder innovation in the industry. If providers have to pay additional fees, they might be less inclined to develop new content and services, which could lead to a decline in the quality of existing offerings.

If telecom operators are unsuccessful in their efforts to charge big tech companies for delivering their content, they may need to explore other avenues to generate income. One such option could be pushing the EU towards more favorable regulations for in-market consolidation. Mergers and acquisitions are often touted as a means of creating synergies that can be reinvested into infrastructure improvements.

With European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager recently clarifying the EU’s stance on regulating mergers and acquisitions, there may be some hope for consolidation in the sector, albeit limited. As discussions progress, the outcome will depend on various factors, including the potential impact on end-users, competition, and the long-term growth and innovation within the industry.