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EU industry chief Breton says not favouring Big Telecoms over Big Tech

EU Internal Market and Industry Commissioner Breton speaks at a news conference in Brussels

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU industry chief Thierry Breton on Monday defended a consultation on whether Big Tech should foot the bill for billions of euros of investments in Europe's telecoms infrastructure, saying it was not about putting Big Telecoms' interests above tech companies.

The consultation launched last week pits Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange SA, Telefonica SA, Telecom Italia SpA against Alphabet Inc's Google, Apple Inc, Meta Platforms Inc, Netflix Inc, Inc and Microsoft Corp.

The European Union official 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".

"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," Breton said in the text of a speech to be delivered at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in the Spanish city.

"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," he said.

The Dutch government on Monday warned against imposing an internet toll on tech companies, the first EU government to criticise Breton's plan after its Thursday launch, saying such a move may breach net neutrality rules and lead to price hikes for Europeans.

Still, Breton took a swipe at the big U.S. tech companies with their large-scale data centres, their cloud-based radio access network (RAN) - the radio element of a cellular system - and their 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."

He called for a serious discussion of possible hurdles to cross-border telecoms consolidation, siding with operators who say tough EU merger rules impede deals, and also talked up the benefits of an integrated radio spectrum market.

"I see these two issues as currently holding back our collective potential compared to other continents," Breton said.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Jonathan Oatis)