Europe’s Broadband Battle

In the debate about who should pay to provide high-speed broadband Internet access to all 500 million EU residents, Internet giants like Google and Facebook are often accused of failing to contribute their fair share. Is this criticism warranted?

LONDON – Among the many challenges facing the new European Commission is determining how to provide ultra-fast broadband Internet access to all 500 million European Union residents without raising taxes or bankrupting Europe’s telecommunications companies. This imperative has led many to demand larger contributions from Internet giants like Google, Netflix, and Facebook, which are frequently criticized for failing to pull their weight – and even lambasted as “free-riders,” intent on pillaging European assets and markets. Is this criticism warranted?

In a word: no. The reality is that major Internet companies – most of which are based in the United States – are already contributing billions of dollars to establish and maintain the networks and data centers that are essential to the Internet’s functioning.

In fact, these companies directly invested more than €75 billion ($100 billion) in Internet infrastructure over the last three years, with spending up by about 10% annually over this period. Moreover, they participated in consortia that invested more than €500 million in laying a trans-Pacific submarine fiber optic cable, which has been operational since 2010, and an 8,300-kilometer (5,200-mile) cable from Southeast Asia to Japan that came on-stream last year.

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