Two major debates are brewing: the sender-pays argument, which would see Big Tech contribute to infrastructure costs in Europe, and the extent to which Section 230 protects social media platforms from liability over algorithms.
And oh, it’s our 100th edition! Thank you for reading us, week after week. Cheers to another 100.
Stephanie and the Digital Watch team
// HIGHLIGHT //
Brussels opens door to sender-pays consultation
Telecom providers have long argued that content providers – the likes of Google, Apple, Netflix, and others – should shoulder some infrastructure costs. Last week, after much anticipation, the European Commission took the first step by launching a public consultation on the future of connectivity.
The 12-week consultation, in the form of a questionnaire, is a prelude to plans that could require Big Tech to pay their share of costs related to the digital infrastructure. The questionnaire’s fourth section is dedicated to the ‘fair contribution by all digital players’, and explains how internet traffic has grown and how developments around the metaverse and other innovative technologies will push the demand for data and internet traffic even more. Companies completing the questionnaire are being asked to quantify their past and planned investments in the network infrastructure, and their past and future share of traffic, among other points.
For those eager to hear the reactions from both sides of the fence, the timing of the launch couldn’t have been better. Companies and European policymakers are expected to battle it out at this week’s GSMA Mobile World Congress in Spain, which started today and runs through Thursday.
Today, Telefonica’s and Orange’s CEOs took the stage in Barcelona to applaud the launch. Orange’s Christel Heydemann described the consultation as a first step toward fixing what she referred to as an ‘unbalanced situation’. Telefonica’s Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete said it was time for telcos and Big Tech to collaborate: ‘Collaborating means everybody contributing with a fair share of the effort.’
Content providers have yet to take the stage, but one of the main arguments we can expect to hear is how any initiative forcing Big Tech to contribute might breach net neutrality rules. This doesn’t really argue that content providers shouldn’t contribute; it only tells us what the impact of an EU initiative might be.
Since last week’s launch, the Dutch government has also spoken out against rules that could be imposed on Big Tech. Any financial imposition would be tantamount to an internet tax that would be passed on to consumers, the Dutch minister for economic affairs told Reuters in an interview.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has not committed to specific next steps. Time will tell.
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European Commission proposes new rules for faster, cheaper internet by 2030
The European Commission proposed new rules for the faster, cheaper, and more effective rollout of internet networks across the bloc.
The commission wants all EU households and businesses to have access to a one-gigabit connection by 2030. That’s one of the targets outlined in Europe’s Digital Decade, a set of objectives which the EU wants to reach by 2030.
The proposed Gigabit Infrastructure Act will replace the older Broadband Cost Reduction Directive (2014), which mandated that EU citizens and businesses be covered by internet speeds of at least 30 Mbps.
// MEDIA //
Google blocks access to news content in Canada; PM reacts
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticised Google for making a terrible mistake. ‘It really surprises me that Google has decided that they’d rather prevent Canadians from accessing news than actually paying journalists for the work they do,’ he said, according to media reports.
UNESCO conducts three-day dialogue on guidelines to regulate digital platforms
UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay has warned about the negative effects of disinformation on the 90 or so elections coming up in the next two years and the risks of states developing regulations in isolation.
Speaking during the three-day Internet for Trust conference last week, she said that this situation calls for regulatory initiatives: ‘This regulatory work to ensure transparency, to protect democratic life, is, of course, the responsibility of states – and many of them are taking action, with at least 55 initiatives already underway. But if these regulatory initiatives are developed in isolation, with each country working in their own corner, they are not without risk.’ The conference served as a dialogue for informing UNESCO’s draft guidelines on regulating social media platforms to improve the reliability of information. The UN organisation said it would release the final version of the guidelines in September.
US Supreme Court hears lawsuits that may affect Section 230
The US Supreme Court has begun hearing arguments that could have implications for Section 230, a law that protects social media companies and other internet platforms from liability for third-party content posted on the platforms.
The lawsuit is an appeal filed by Twitter after a lower court allowed the case to proceed and ruled that the company had not taken adequate steps to prevent Islamic State terrorists from using the platform. The family of a Jordanian man accused Twitter of failing to police the platform after a 2017 attack led to the man’s death along with 38 other victims.
In a separate lawsuit against Google, the family of an American woman killed in a Paris attack by Islamist militants alleges that Google’s algorithm recommended content from the militant group to YouTube users. This type of activity doesn’t fall under immunity from Section 230, they claim.
Rulings in both cases are due by the end of June.
// JOBS //
Twitter lays off 200 employees
Twitter laid off at least 200 more of its employees, representing anywhere between 10% and 15% of its workforce, depending on which news report comes closest to reality.
Ericsson joins layoff frenzy
Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson also announced that it would lay off 8,500 employees globally – approximately 8% of its global workforce.
// METAVERSE //
Colombia court holds historic first hearing in the metaverse
3 March: The 2023 Cyber Stability Conference, organised by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in New York and online, will tackle the rights and responsibilities of states in cyberspace under the UN Charter.