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Faced with slow 5G rollout, EU telcos single out Big Tech again

Men stand while attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European telecommunications lobbying group ETNO on Monday again urged Big Tech to help pay for the rollout of 5G and broadband as it released data showing Europe trails the United States and Asia in 5G networks, cloud computing, investments and revenues.

The comments by ETNO, whose members include Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and Telecom Italia, come as the European Commission readies a proposal on digital networks and infrastructure on Feb. 21.

The EU telecoms industry's hopes of getting Alphabet's Google, Amazon, Netflix, Meta Platforms and Microsoft to help pay for the rollout of 5G and broadband were dashed last year after the Commission decided not to propose legislation to this effect but to leave it to the next team in 2025.

Despite a record 59.1 billion euros ($64 billion) in investments by the sector last year, only 10 out of 114 networks in Europe were 5G standalone, ETNO said, citing a report it commissioned from research group Analysys Mason.

On edge cloud, which brings computing capacity close to the end user, Europe only had four commercialised offers in 2023 versus 17 offers in the Asia-Pacific region and nine in North America, it said.

The report said this was due to the fact that Europe's telecom capital expenditure per capita and average revenue per user (ARPU) in 2022 lagged that of South Korea, the United States and Japan.

The study reminded EU regulators of the Rights and Principles Declaration from 2022 which says that all market actors benefiting from the digital economy should make a 'fair and proportionate contribution' to digital network investment.

"The debate will shape the longer-term strength of the European telecoms sector, as well as its overall investment capacity," the report said.

"The status quo - both in terms of investment and of policy - will not deliver the levels of innovation that are so desperately needed to sustain growth and deliver on the Open Strategic Autonomy," ETNO Director General Lise Fuhr said.

($1 = 0.9229 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)