On Wednesday 10 May SME Connect hosted a webcast on “How do Telecoms Network Fees Impact European SMEs, Consumers and Taxpayers?” with participation of MICHAEL JÄGER, Secretary General of Taxpayers Association of Europe; IVAN STEFANEC MEP, IMCO & ITRE Committees member, President of SME Europe of the EPP and SME Connect Board Member; NINA CUMMINS, Head of Connectivity & Access Policy, EMEA at Meta; DR. JAKOB GREINER, Vice President European Affairs at Deutsche Telekom; TOM SMYTH, CEO Wireless Connect Ltd; LISA DI FELICIANTONIO, Chief External Relations and Sustainability Officer at FASTWEB; CARL GAHNBERG, Director of Policy Development and Research at the Internet Society. The discussion was moderated by DR. MICHAL BONI, SME Connect Special Advisor for Digitalisation and AI; Member of the European Parliament 2014 – 2019; First Minister of Administration and Digitalisation of Poland.
DR. BONI opened the debate with an observation how different the position of Telcos is now comparing to 10 years ago due to changed market models and looming connectivity challenges. He stressed the importance of a sorrow investigation of all controversies, conflicted interest, possible solutions and compromises, as well as unintended consequences they may bring to all actors across the value chain, including SMEs, taxpayers, users, consumers.
MICHAEL JÄGER echoed the questions and conserns mentioned, insisting on a sorrow impact assessment and warning against excessive regulation hindering competition and free market.
IVAN STEFANEC MEP stressed that the stability of the environment is crucial for SMEs in current economic uncertainty. We need to be cautious about solutions and adjust them to real conditions and real environment, he remarked.
NINA CUMMINS warned against hasty adoption of solutions without first understanding the problems. Meta sees data growth as consumer demand, resulting in more broadband subscriptions. She urged to address the gaps in the fiber networks across Europe with existing universal service funds or other forms of tax rather than having one sector of the community funding another.
DR. JAKOB GREINER from Deutsche Telekom stressed the committment of Telcos to the EU ambitious connectivity targets however, it seems, the industry cannot bear the costs of investment unaided. He explained that most Telco companies are no longer profitable due to user prices drop. Telcos are now facing an investment gap of 174 billion EUR.
On the other hand TOM SMYTH, CEO of Wireless Connect, an Irish small-sized internet provider, argued against network fees on consumers for multiple reasons, one of them being the inevitable risk of Internet access market distortion and net neutrality undermined. He warned about the risk of European traffic being moved off-shore should users be discouraged from peering locally. In his comprehensive presentation, Mr Smyth called for realisitc impact assessment and listed concrete measures for the European Commission to consider.
LISA DI FELICIANTONIO from Fastweb, a small Italy-based telecom provider, explained how sensitive her company has been to novel consumer behaviours, opting for mobile internet instead of investing in fiber. When we have the imbalanced situation, we need to rebalance it, she remarked.
CARL GAHNBERG from the Internet Society countered with comprehensive arguments on how the proposed network fees rules would be inherently harmful for the digital environment in Europe as they inevitably undermine net neutrality and go against the rules of the Single Market.