Tech and streaming giants suck up vast amounts of bandwidth, so the EU this week revived a long-standing idea to make them pay the telecom firms who maintain the infrastructure.
But the idea, which sounds simple, has sparked wails of disapproval not just from the tech giants who would be forced to pay, but also from digital rights activists worried that it would create a two-speed internet.
EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager kicked off the controversy at a media briefing on Monday when she promised renewed focus on the idea of “fair contribution to telecommunication networks”.
“We see that there are players who generate a lot of traffic that then enables their business but who have not been contributing actually to enable that traffic,” she said.
Vestager did not name any companies but European telecoms lobby group ETNO published a study on the same day naming the firms they see as the major culprits — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Netflix.
ETNO cited a claim that these six accounted for more than 55 percent of online traffic globally last year.
Vestager’s colleague, interior markets commissioner Thierry Breton, quoted a similar figure in a tweet on Wednesday, writing that restoring fairness was now “one of the main projects in our digital space”.
Media reports suggested legislation would be on the table by the end of the year.
The EU has already passed two massive laws giving regulators more bite when it comes to policing content and anti-competitive practices.
Those efforts were largely welcomed by rights activists.
But the fight over internet infrastructure has sparked fears that the EU could end up jeopardising “net neutrality”, whereby telecoms firms are barred from selling faster internet speeds to particular companies.
The issue has spawned a long-running toxic debate in the United States.
– ‘Double-dip’ accusation –
Telecom companies have made repeated requests for tech firms to pay up, including a joint appeal last year from the four largest European operators — Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Orange and Telefonica.
With the launch of its report on Monday, ETNO pointed out that telecoms firms have invested more than 500 billion euros over the past 10 years to develop national networks.
The association envisaged that a 20-billion-euro annual contribution would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, boost economic output across the bloc and help reduce energy consumption.
The tech industry was quick to respond, calling ETNO’s conclusions “fundamentally flawed”.
“Operators are already being paid by their customers,” said Christian Borggreen of the CCIA lobby group for tech firms, accusing telecoms firms of wanting to “double-dip”.
“This would be equivalent to energy companies trying to collect fees from appliance makers for the energy use of washing machines while consumers are already being charged for the actual amount of energy used to do their laundry,” he said.
– Privileged access’ –
While both sides claim to support the principle of an open internet, activists and experts have raised concerns that the EU could open the way to firms buying faster internet from providers.
The EU’s top court confirmed in a 2020 ruling against internet provider Telenor that such pricing policies were illegal.
But Thomas Lohninger of EDRi, a rights lobby group, wrote that Vestager “wants to destroy Net Neutrality in the EU” and said it would be a “huge mistake”.
Stephane Bortzmeyer, a network engineer and commentator, told AFP the result of enabling telecoms firms to discriminate would certainly be a two-speed internet.
“There will be ordinary people who don’t pay, whose services will be slow, and others who can afford it will have privileged access,” he said.
The issue of net neutrality has been at the heart of a bitter years-long row in the United States where activists and tech firms have fought against telecom firms’ efforts to weaken rules against such pricing policies.
Vestager may just have imported a similar row to Europe.
Americans' pandemic-era entrepreneurial streak is holding strong—for now
Inflation has nothing on the American entrepreneurial spirit, which, judging by the volume of new businesses formed, continues to see potential in the post-pandemic economy.
To better understand the post-COVID-19 outlook for entrepreneurship in the U.S., altLINE analyzed data and reports from the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Census Bureau. The data shows that Americans are on track through July of this year to submit 54% more applications to start new businesses compared to the same period in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.
New business applications soared initially at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as brick-and-mortar businesses were forced to close their doors in compliance with local social distancing mandates. Stores saw business plummet and many were never able to reopen their doors, even as public health restrictions eased. The seismic shift in shopping habits spurred many Americans to start new business ventures at rates not seen since before the Great Recession, when the U.S. consumer took a hit from one of the deepest recessions on record.
As the current economic situation puzzles economists who debate whether a recession may be in the future, the continuing creation of businesses could mitigate some of the pain of a slowing economy.
Studies have suggested that the growth of the smallest businesses can help an economy’s resilience. Young, tiny companies, sometimes called “microbusinesses,” reduce local unemployment rates in their communities and have been related to rising household incomes, according to GoDaddy’s July 2021 Venture Forward Report.
COVID-19 recession provides shot in the arm
Advancements in technology made it easier for business owners to set up and run online storefronts and services. Leading up to 2020, ecommerce platforms integrating new technology for enhanced shopper experiences provided a critical foundation for the spike in new businesses. As Americans stayed at home during the height of the pandemic, they shopped online for everything from personal care to groceries. Ecommerce sales nearly doubled in 2020, jumping by 43% to a whopping $815 billion in annual retail sales. Thousands in stimulus checks also did their part to keep Americans afloat—and spending. On top of those factors, interest rates for loans to buoy new companies and purchase real estate were at historic lows.
In the first year of the new business surge, retailers in the fashion space made up the lion’s share of new small businesses, according to the GoDaddy Venture Forward Report.
Today, those new business owners face a much more expensive economy. Costs for labor, gas, clothing, food, and other critical inputs for businesses have risen considerably since 2020.
Ground Picture // Shutterstock
New business class faces considerable headwinds
The typical new business faces its most difficult time in its first years of operation. Historically, 4 in 5 new businesses make it beyond their first year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But the odds of survival dwindle in each subsequent year of operation. Based on trends, just 1 in 2 businesses created in 2020 will likely survive beyond 2025.
The entrepreneurs looking to survive now face mounting headwinds in the face of rising interest rates, which has made borrowing money more expensive for both consumers and small business owners.
For small businesses seeking venture funding, seed-stage venture capital has stagnated as the venture capitalist ranks have grown wary of investing in early-stage companies. For those seeking loans, the cost of borrowing money today is at its highest since 2001, when the tech bubble burst, throwing the U.S. into recession.
Story editing by Ashleigh Graf. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.
This story originally appeared on altLINE and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
Robots are starting to deliver takeout orders. Are they here to stay?
In a March 2023 Deloitte survey, 47% of Americans said they would order from a restaurant that delivers food with a drone or an autonomous vehicle. That’s up 3 percentage points from the company’s 2021 survey about restaurant trends.
In that first survey, researchers noted there was “massive uncertainty in the industry, and many worried that restaurant patronage might never recover” from the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that two-thirds of consumers believed they would not immediately return to their pre-pandemic restaurant habits.
In 2023, most restaurant customer behavior is back to normal—though some changes have blended into the industry’s practices. Task Group analyzed the state of autonomous delivery systems, both nationally and internationally, to measure the progress of this technology post-pandemic.
As with other industries, technology has helped maximize efficiency and improve customer satisfaction. Business owners learned new service methods, marketing strategies, and technical terminology. Food delivery skyrocketed during lockdowns, making greater strides in restaurant efficiency and, in some cases, profits. Many restaurant owners connected apps that allowed customers to order without talking to a human to state-of-the-art delivery systems that don’t require a driver.
Restaurants and transportation companies in North America and Europe are experimenting with new automated delivery techniques that can reduce their costs as long as they do not compromise customer satisfaction. And consumers are ready—but how soon will it become standard practice?
Julija Sh // Shutterstock
What are drones and sidewalk delivery vehicles?
The robots most commonly used in the food delivery industry are aerial drones and wheeled autonomous delivery vehicles that travel along sidewalks to reach customers.
Drones are classified by how they generate lift—with fixed wings, rotors, or a combination—by how they’re used, such as food delivery, and what equipment they have on board, including batteries and cameras.
In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration regulates drone use. The agency requires pilots to be certified—and bans drones within five miles of airports.
For many years, the FAA stood in the way of companies seeking to use drones for deliveries, but in 2019, the agency agreed to allow uncrewed delivery flights beyond the pilot’s line-of-sight by UPS and Wing Aviation, owned and operated by Google’s mothership Alphabet. Since then, the agency has approved drone delivery operations for several companies, including Amazon and Walmart.
According to a study published by the Harvard Kennedy School in 2022, autonomous delivery vehicles are not the future. They’re already here. Self-driving machines about the size of a large cooler are already traveling down our sidewalks and crosswalks to deliver various packages.
Policymakers question how these vehicles will work and interact with people and other vehicles in already congested and chaotic urban environments. The Harvard researchers believe these vehicles “offer the promise of less congestion and greener shipments,” but also “raise concerns about safety and use of road and sidewalk infrastructure.”
While the debate continues, the manufacturers of these robots continue to advance their technology, including using machine learning to improve navigation, efficiency, and safety.
How far off are drone or sidewalk deliveries?
Estonia-based delivery startup Bolt, working with Starship Technologies, has been trialing sidewalk deliveries in Estonia, the U.K., and the U.S. and plans to formally launch robot deliveries later this year in as many as 500 cities in 45 countries.
Bolt’s main competitor, Uber, signed a deal in 2022 with autonomous vehicle startup Nuro “to test driverless food deliveries” in Mountain View, California, and Houston, Texas. Before the agreement, Uber ran a pilot program for sidewalk delivery in Los Angeles, while Nuro delivered Domino’s pizzas in specific areas of Houston for a year.
Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.
This story originally appeared on Task Group and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
AI “superusers” seek education, fun, and productivity with generative AI
A look at two separate studies by Sparktoro and Salesforce on people’s generative AI use.
Maybe it was through your job. Or simply out of curiosity.
With the rise of generative AI, you’ve probably tried out ChatGPT or a similar tool. But how often are people using these? More interestingly, what motivates them? Both Salesforce and SparkToro sought to find out with two separate studies.
Here are highlights from each report and how they compare:
Work automation and educational pursuits top priorities for AI users
Both Salesforce and SparkToro can agree on this. SparkToro highlighted professional use of the platform as at an “all-time high,” then ranked categories of interest across over 4,000 ChatGPT prompts with these in the top 5:
- Programming: 29.14%
- Education: 23.30%
- Content: 20.79%
- Sales and Marketing: 13.47%
- Personal & Other: 6.73%
Salesforce found that 75% of generative AI users are motivated by streamlined work communications and task automation. The second highest topic of interest? Technically “messing around” (38%), though a close third was learning and education (34%). Both SparkToro and Salesforce posit that education doesn’t just include homework or university coursework—users also use tools like ChatGPT to develop knowledge of other desired educational topics.
Younger generations more likely to use AI than older ones despite general decline in usage
Salesforce surveyed 4,000 people to find out how they use generative AI and what their demographics are. Turns out, most “superusers” — aka those who use the tool every day — are Millennials or Gen Zers (65%). Plus, 70% of the Gen Z participants surveyed said they use generative AI.
Still, SparkToro notes an overall decline in generative AI use regardless of age. After studying monthly traffic data on OpenAI provided by Datos, SparkToro found overall traffic fell by nearly 30%.
Users ask ChatGPT to write, create, and list
These were the top three common words in SparkToro’s assessment in ChatGPT prompts. However, they also share a notable prevalence of the words “game” and “SEO in prompts as well. Other words less commonly used yet enough to come up in the results included judge, SaaS pricing, curriculum, employment, and employer.
Veronica Ott is a freelance writer and digital marketer with a specialization in finance and business. As a CPA with experience in the industry, she’s able to provide unique insight into various monetary, financial and economic topics. When Veronica isn’t writing, you can find her watching the latest films!
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