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Open Letter urging to abandon the “Sending-Party-Network-Pays” proposal

Dear Commissioner Vestager,
Dear Commissioner Breton,

The undersigned experts write to express our concern and to urge the Commission to abandon its plans to require content providers to pay telecommunication providers an “infrastructure fee”, often referred to as the “Sending-Party-Network- Pays” model. Such fees violate the net neutrality rules enshrined in the 2015 Open Internet Regulation and are explicitly prohibited by every strong net neutrality regime in the world. The current use of the transit and peering model allows for competitive markets. Adopting the “Sending-Party-Network-Pays” model will upend decades of European Union policy and harm Europe’s digital agenda rather than promoting its sound commitment to openness.

Proposals to charge content providers for access to broadband subscribers are not new and have consistently been rejected as harmful. In 2012, large European telecommunications operators tried to push a similar proposal at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). This proposal was rejected by governments, experts, businesses, and civil society. Nothing has changed in the past decade that would warrant revisiting such a policy. However, large telecommunication providers have continued to lobby for a “Sending-Party-Network-Pays” proposal, instead of investing in innovation and new services.

The ideas behind this proposal represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the structure of the internet. First, just like prior proposals, this proposal is based on the mistaken assumption that content providers are causing traffic on broadband networks. Broadband users are requesting this traffic, and they already pay their broadband providers to deliver this traffic to them. Forcing content providers to pay broadband providers for delivering this traffic to their subscribers just results in broadband providers getting paid twice for the same service.

Second, the internet consists of more than the broadband networks that connect users to the rest of the internet. Universities, member-state governments, multi- nationals and even the European Commission all operate their own networks, independently of incumbent telecom operators. The desired rule change would break the competitive market for transit and peering. Indeed, every ISP in the EU could demand the European Commission to pay the ISP each time the regulatory department reads the EU Telecomcode.

While broadband networks are an important part of the internet’s value chain, so are content providers whose services drive Europeans’ demand for broadband access. Broadband providers receive substantial benefits at no charge from content providers’ efforts to create content that broadband subscribers want. Universities,​ public broadcasters and governments are content providers too. All these actors already invest heavily in internet infrastructure. They pay internet service providers to transport their traffic to broadband access networks and pay content delivery networks to store their content close to the end users; many content providers even perform these services themselves.

In addition, such access fees violate the Open Internet Regulation. In 2015, Europe granted end users the right to be “free to access and distribute information and content, use and provide applications and services of their choice.” The Regulation requires broadband providers to treat data in a non-discriminatory fashion, no matter what it contains, which application transmits the data, where it originates and where it ends. Charging some content providers for access to the network but not others violates the spirit and the letter of the Open Internet Regulation.

Lastly, charging access fees is unlikely to solve the broadband deployment problem. History and economic theory clearly show that similar fees do not increase investment in infrastructure from telecoms. In addition, there are bigger barriers to deployment than lack of funding such as permitting and construction capacity. The war in Ukraine showed that the country’s decision to move from a highly centralised Internet to a decentralised one with interconnection points in 19 cities, made it much more resilient to DDOS, fiber cuts and bombing of datacenters. The proposal for “Sending-Party-Network-Pays” would make Europe more vulnerable to attacks.

We ask that the Commission not move forward with a proposal to drastically undermine Net Neutrality in Europe and the world. At this moment, Europe is experiencing a positive regulatory momentum and has become a global regulatory force. Europe should continue to lead by example, and adopting this proposal will have severe consequences both here and worldwide.

Sincerely Yours,

  • ​Dr. Konstantinos Komaitis, Internet policy expert
  • Dr. Luca Belli, Professor at FGV Law School, former Council of Europe Net Neutrality Expert
  • Dr. Niels ten Oever, Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Amsterdam
  • Dr. Francesca Musiani, Associate Research Professor at CNRS, France, Deputy Director, Centre for Internet and Society
  • Dr. Joan Barata, Cyber Policy Center, Stanford Raghav Mendiratta, Future of Free Speech Project, Justitia and Columbia University, New York
  • Dr. Farzaneh Badiei, Digital Medusa
  • Dr. Tito Rendas, Executive Dean, Católica Global School of Law
  • Nikhil Pahwa, co-founder,
  • Thomas Lohninger, co-founder,
  • Prateek Waghre, Policy Director, Internet Freedom Foundation
  • Dr. Yong Liu, Associate Research Fellow at Hebei Academy of Social Sciences
  • Prof. Maria Michalis, Deputy Director of the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), University of Westminster, London
  • Dr. Nuno Garcia, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Law Enforcement, Public Safety and National Security Laboratory – BSAFE Lab, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal
  • Alec Muffett, Internet security consultant
  • Prof. Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering, Cambridge University and Edinburgh University
  • Bogomil Shopov, civil initiative Electronic Frontier Bulgaria
  • Marvin Cheung, Co-Director, Center for Global Agenda (CGA) at Unbuilt Labs
  • Jonathan Care, Board Advisor, Lionfish Tech Advisors
  • Karl Bode, Telecom analyst, writer, and editor
  • Christian de Larrinaga, Internet public service, Investor and founder.
  • Kyung Sin Park, Professor, Korea University Law School, Director, Open Net
  • Dr. Ian Brown, Visiting Professor at FGV Law School
  • Bogdan Manolea, Executive Director, ApTI, Romania Linnar Viik, co-founder, e-Governance Academy, Tartu University, Estonia
  • Dr. Niels Ole Finnemann, professor emeritus, Department of Communications, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Bill Woodcock, Executive Director, Packet Clearing House
  • Moez Chakchouk, Director of Policy and Government Affairs, Packet Clearing House. Former ADG/CI UNESCO & former Minister in Tunisia
  • Desiree Miloshevic, Internet Governace Expert
  • Dr. Mikołaj Barczentewicz, Senior Lecturer in Law and Research Director of the Surrey Law and Technology Hub, University of Surrey
  • Prof. Wolfgang Kleinwächter, European Summer School on Internet Governance, former ICANN Board Member.
  • Thomas F. Ruddy, Retired Researcher, ETH Network