Europe's major telcos are ratcheting up the pressure on Google step by step.
In February, Vodafone’s CEO Vittorio Colao called for an antitrust probe into the search giant and his equivalent at Telefonica, Cesar Alierta, said he wanted to charge internet players like Google for their usage of his firm's networks.
Now Vodafone has got behind that call too, and is to petition the European Union to take action to "facilitate bilateral agreements between telecom operators and online content providers like Google".
This amounts to a 'Google tax', enabling mobile and fixed carriers to charge online content providers variable fees according to the network quality they receive, and/or the amount of bandwidth they consume.
The plan was outlined by the president of Vodafone Spain, Francisco Roman, who reiterated the usual telco arguments - that they must be properly compensated for their huge investment in higher capacity, better quality networks, and that they would rather charge the service providers than the consumers.
Of course, there is a very grey area between such proposals and practices that would probably be illegal under planned EU laws on net neutrality, though these will not be fully debated until later in the year.
Vodafone's solution is to “erect walls” between carriers and online content providers, though he acknowledged this could reduce diversity. It will finalise its submission within the next few days and present it to a public consultation on net neutrality under the auspices of EU information society commissioner Neelie Kroes.
The giant cellco further argues that operators already support differential pricing for end users depending on usage volumes and quality, and should be able to do the same for content and service partners like Google, Yahoo or Microsoft.
Roman told a conference in Madrid that “20% of web users account for 80% per cent of the traffic. This state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely. Maintaining a system in which everyone is charged the same, regardless of their internet consumption or use, will eventually result in network collapse.”
[This article originally appeared in Rethink Wireless]