French telcos hit by new climate rules on data billing

Big cities may rely on historical sights and antique treasures to draw in the tourists, but they can still benefit from infrastructure upgrades. Driving this evolution in the near-future will be tourism, one of the industries most rocked by Covid-19 that is steadily preparing for a post-pandemic world in which people are free to travel again. 

Starting this month, French telcos will have to provide their mobile customers with detailed information about their personal greenhouse gas emissions, linked to their mobile data usage, on their monthly bill.

That presents a delicate dilemma for those in the business of selling mobile data.

On one hand, all the major French telcos are already deeply committed to achieving a broad set of ESG goals. On the other, the mobile business has grown by encouraging consumers to use, and pay for, more and more data. In the French market, telcos have deployed the same "more for more" revenue-boosting marketing tactics as operators world-wide – encouraging "binge" mobile video behaviour with ever-cheaper data packages, including unlimited data. Furthermore, all mobile operators are deeply entrenched in promotion and marketing tactics to incentive users to adopt faster mobile network services, notably 5G.

A large part of the 5G marketing story to date has focused on the value of high-bandwidth 5G use cases and applications, from Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), to latency-free mobile gaming. But these data-hungry applications also emit the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and therein lies the rub.

This new obligation comes as part of a new amendment to the French government’s anti-waste legislation which has been attempting to cut waste in multiple sectors, and provide better environmental information for consumers, to create a more circular economy for several years.

To be sure, the French anti-waste legislation is already considered to be one of the most progressive among the European states. It was one of the first in the world to ban the destruction of unsold food in 2016, as well as an wide array of one-time usage products, from straws and plastic cutlery to fast-food restaurant polystyrene foam boxes.

In the tech domain, a key achievement of this legislation to date was the introduction of a standardized "repairability rating" on certain electric and electronic products such as mobile phones and electric toothbrushes – a concept the EU is considering implementing across all member states.

A key goal of this legislation is to force businesses to provide consumers with transparent, clear and standardized information about each product’s environmental impact.

When it comes to forcing mobile operators to be open about the climate impact of mobile data usage, this latest amendment is one of the most forward-looking yet and could provide a template for other national regulators seeking to bind businesses to more ESG transparency.

Main image credit: r.classen /