Recently released documents reveal that the United Nations International Telecommunication Union is working on plans that would allow them to tax the major Internet Web content providers. The list of tax targets includes Google, Apple, Netflix and Facebook.
According to the report I read, the tax proposal originated with a lobby group based in Brussels called European Telecommunications Network Operators Association, or ETNO. This group is said to represent companies in thirty-five countries who are trying to force these taxes to be collected, most likely for their use. The ETNO members of the ITU is calling for the current telecommunications treaty to be amended to allow the taxing of major Internet providers for the privilege of serving non-US web users.
A number of European telecommunication companies such as Vodafone Group, Telecom Italia and France Telecom want US based providers like Google and Apple to pay fees linked to usage in their countries, much like phone companies do now for international phone calls. No one has yet offered exactly what this would cost the US companies, but considering that telephone companies are paying around $5.4 billion a year for international phone access and usage, the figure for the web based fees are sure to be much higher since web usage far outweighs phone usage.
Senior manager for public policy at the Internet Society, Sally Shipman Wentworth said the ETNO proposal is extremely worrisome and that, “It could create an enormous amount of legal uncertainty and commercial uncertainty.”
Robert Pepper, Cisco’s vice president for global technology policy suggests that if the proposed amendment to the treaty is pushed forward that it could cause some US based Internet providers to refuse to connect to those developing countries because of the exorbitant fees that they would have to pay. The result, according to Pepper is that many countries could find themselves virtually cut off from any US based Internet providers.
When the proposal comes up later this year, it will be interesting to see what happens. There are 193 countries that are members of ITU and each country has a single vote. Undoubtedly, the US representative will vote against the proposal, but many are not sure who else will side the US. One thing is clear and that is if the proposal is adopted, it may launch a barrage of international legal battles unlike anything we’ve seen before. It will also affect all of us in some way or other as the big companies like Google, Apple, Netflix and Facebook will find ways of charging us to pay for their extorted international dealings and connections.