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The fight over who will fund the bloc’s 5G roll-out will be decided via consultation, the EC says.

The EU’s industry chief issued a strong message this week about how the Commission will handle the struggle between Big Tech companies and EU telecoms companies over who will foot the bill for the very expensive high speed Internet rollout across the bloc.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton defended a 12-week consultation launched last week which could result in Big Tech having to carry more of the costs of the 5G rollout in the EU.

The Commissioner insisted that the European Commission would put Big Telecoms’ interests above tech companies ,when it came to funding the billions of euros of investments in the EU’s telecoms infrastructure.

Breton said he did not see the issue as “a binary choice between those who provide networks today and those who feed them with the traffic”, according to Reuters.

“For me the real challenge is to make sure that by 2030 our fellow citizens and business on our streets across the EU – including here in Barcelona – have access to fast, reliable and data-intense Gigabit connectivity”, he said.

“And for that we need the connectivity networks – highways – of the future. That is the vision. It is not about whether one vested interest should prevail over another,” Breton added.

A battle of the titans

The current conflict sees big telcos like Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, and Telecom Italia squaring off against large platform providers such as Google, Apple, Meta, Netflix, Amazon and Microsoft.

At issue is how much of the costs for the Internet infrastructure should be borne by the Big Tech companies, whom the telcos claim account for half of all data traffic on their networks.

Even while maintaining his “neutral” stance, Breton could not help but make a dig at the US tech giants with their large-scale data centres and closed ecosystems.

“We see hyperscalers in cloud and platform services leveraging their market dominance to move into the telco space, using their cash reserves to develop Cloud RAN networks and to provide direct services to business,” he said. “And interoperability or openness are not currently a strong feature of their business model.”

Also read: Netherlands warns of European ‘internet tax’ for Big Tech