European Commission proposal to force websites to pay ISPs violates net neutrality, harms Europeans, and solves no problems: Prof. Barbara van Schewick Filing

The European Commission is evaluating a proposal by the largest telecoms in Europe to force websites and apps to pay broadband companies like Telefonica, Orange, and Deutsche Telekom. This dangerous proposal would require companies like Twitch, YouTube, Netflix and more to negotiate with and pay every broadband provider in Europe.

These network fees are unnecessary, attack the open internet, and directly violate both net neutrality principles and the EU’s net neutrality law. Europeans already pay their ISP to do whatever they want online, but now the ISPs want to get paid twice for the same service. 

The EU’s top telecom regulator BEREC dismissed the proposal in October 2022. It concluded the proposal was no different than a widely rejected 2012 proposal by the same ISPs, and “found no evidence that such a mechanism is justified.”

But former telecom executive and now-Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton persisted, and the Commission opened an exploratory proceeding in February, asking for feedback on the proposal. Responses were due on Friday, May 19, 2023.

On Friday, I filed my responses to the Commission’s questions, along with a 10-page explanation of the harms of the network fee proposal (links below). 

I explain that:

  • Network fees violate Europe’s net neutrality law and could lead to a splintering of the internet globally;

  • ISPs’ claims that rising traffic is overwhelming their networks are false, and ISPs do not need payment from online companies to meet EU connectivity goals;

  • The Internet flourished over the last 30 years because such payments didn’t exist;

  • Network fees would lead popular online services to end free services, increase prices, or reduce video quality for EU citizens;

  • Small businesses, creators, startups, and innovators would be significantly harmed;

  • Network fees would distort competition; 

  • There’s no guarantee the proposal would increase deployment of 5G and fiber in the EU, because ISPs would be free to use additional funds for executive bonuses rather than increased investment; and 

  • The proposal is the first step in ISPs' plans to eliminate net neutrality and become gatekeepers that decide for us what we can and can’t do online.

The full document can be downloaded here as a PDF and read online in a Google doc or in this blog post. 

Other organizations also filed comments. Here are links to some of the ones I’ve seen so far:



European Commission’s Exploratory Consultation on “The future of the electronic communications sector and its infrastructure,” ran from February 23 to May 19, 2023: consultation website



  • Joint Statement by 50+ digital rights organizations, consumer groups, and businesses, including ISPs, mobile virtual network operators, broadcaster groups and publishers, including Sports Rights Owner Coalition, Motion Picture Association, and Wikimedia Europe: blog post, official filing

  • Creative Commons, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and Europeana Foundation: blog post, official filing (pdf)

Earlier Documents:

Internet Society: In One Corner, Large Telecom Operators. In the Other, Everybody Else. (collecting letters from a wide range of stakeholders opposed to network fees)

Letter from 54 Members of the European Parliament criticizing the network fee proposal

Letter from 34 NGOs from 17 countries opposing network fee proposal


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