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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// INFRASTRUCTURE //
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
Google has temporarily blocked access to news content in Canada, responding to looming new rules in Canada. The draft rules, called the Online News Act, or Bill C-18, will oblige Google and other internet platforms to compensate Canadian media companies for making their news content available on the platforms. Google says the blocked content affects only 4% of Canadian viewers.
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.
Why it’s relevant. First, Google’s response is a display of strong-arm tactics employed by companies to influence policymaking. Second, it’s deja vu. Two years ago, Google temporarily blocked major Australian news outlets from its search engine as part of an experiment in reaction to the Australian government’s plans to enact the News media bargaining code (by the time the law was enacted, Google had entered into private agreements with news agencies in the country).
// CONTENT POLICY //
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
These are the avatars of Magistrate María Victoria Quiñones (far right), and representatives of the parties to a lawsuit being heard in the metaverse by the Administrative Tribunal of Magdalena, in Colombia. The hearing took place in Meta’s Horizon Workrooms and livestreamed on YouTube. After the hearing, the magistrate told reporters: ‘It felt more real than a video call’. Many people were sceptical, but the editor of El Tiempo, Colombia’s most-read newspaper, thinks it’s a welcome innovation.
|The week ahead (27 February – 5 March)|
27 February and 6 March: The Commission is organising technical workshops with stakeholders on how to comply with the new Digital Markets Act. Today’s workshop is on DMA and interoperability between messaging services. Another workshop, on 6 March, will tackle the app store-related aspects.
27 February–4 April: The first of three yearly sessions of the Human Rights Council starts today, in Geneva and online. What to watch for during the 52nd session:
- UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ address, and speeches by heads of state (throughout week 1)
- A discussion on countering disinformation based on the outcomes of last year’s high-level discussion (during week 2 or week 3)
- The annual discussion on the rights of the child in the digital age (on 10 March)
- A discussion on the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Children, which addresses the risks children face in the digital environment (on 15–16 March)
Dates may change. Consult the agenda and the latest programme of work. Refer also to the Universal Rights Group’s The Inside Track covering HRC52.
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.
Telegeography’s 2023 State of the Network Report rounds up the main trends in telecom networks. Among the findings:
- Demand for international bandwidth nearly doubles every two years. The strongest demand has been for links connected to Africa.
- The demand comes mostly from a handful of content and cloud service providers: Google, Meta, Amazon, and Microsoft. (That’s an important point for the unfolding sender-pays debate.)
Access the full text.
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