Google faced renewed political pressure in Europe on Monday when France’s technology minister backed suggestions that it should make a contribution to the cost of operating and upgrading telecoms networks.
Fleur Pellerin said there was a “need to ask serious questions about how web companies can put some money into networks”.
Her comments came after a French broadband provider blocked its subscribers from seeing the advertisements that fund web companies such as Google. Xavier Niel, the entrepreneur behind Free, which has around 5.2 million subscribers, has complained that Google does not compensate him for the amount of capacity that services such as YouTube consume.
Ms Pellerin said she had asked Free to lift the embargo on Google and other web advertising, but indicated sympathy with Mr Niel’s position.
“What solutions do internet providers have when faced with content providers who use their networks but don’t invest in them?” she said at a press conference in Paris.
Google is likely to fiercely resist political moves to make it pay telecoms firms for carrying its traffic to their subscribers as it would likely mean costs would increase with the popularity of its services. The firm’s massive profitability is based in part on the fact that once it has built web products, the cost of serving them to growing numbers of people remains relatively stable.
Similar proposals were tabled by a coalition of European network operators at a recent United Nations conference. Google publicly attacked the talks and branded them a threat to freedom on the internet.
The firm declined to respond to Ms Pellerin’s comments but said it was aware of Free’s actions and was investigating. The minister said she would meet Google executives ahead of a debate on the issue on 15 January.
The controversy is the latest of Google’s regulatory battles in Europe. While a US government investigation last week found that in the most important areas web search and advertising, Google was not guilty of monopoly abuses, a parallel European Commission probe has demanded it changes its practices.
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