The telecoms gendarme may have his whistle to regulate the effect of digital technology on the climate

The Constitutional Council had censored, this summer, a provision aimed at entrusting the telecoms gendarme with powers to regulate digital technology, through a barometer on the environmental footprint. A new bill aims to correct the situation.

Will the telecommunications regulator end up obtaining powers to act on the environmental impact of digital technology in France? While a first legal text, partially censored by the Constitutional Council in August, was to grant certain prerogatives to the Electronic Communications Regulatory Authority (Arcep), a new initiative has just emerged in Parliament.

It is worn by Senator Patrick Chaize, member of the Republicans. The chosen one has already shown his interest in these subjects. For example, he suggested banning the automatic launch of videos (an initiative that aroused the interest of Cédric O, the secretary of state in charge of digital technology within the government), as part of a broader text. consisting in reducing the environmental footprint of digital technology in France.

The power to follow the digital environmental footprint

His bill, reported on Twitter by Jérôme Rabenou, project manager at the Ministry of Justice, was registered in the Senate on September 16 and posted online on the 20th. It in fact takes up the leads that were already included in the bill to fight against climate change , and strengthen the country’s resilience in the face of its effects, which was partially censored this summer by the Constitutional Council.

During the debates for this bill, the deputies who were members of La République en Marche adopted a long amendment aimed at giving Arcep powers in matters of environmental data collection – we detailed these prerogatives in this dedicated article. The amendment then became an article of the bill and was kept in the Senate, then in a joint committee.

In summary, the article gave Arcep the ability to collect information or documents relating to the environmental footprint of the electronic communications sector, or sectors related to it (smartphones, data centers, operators, OS such as Android and iOS…), and the power to specify the rules regarding the content and the information modalities on this imprint.

microsoft data center data center
A Microsoft data center // Source: Microsoft

Except that, noted the Constitutional Council, ” these provisions have no link, even indirect, with Article 1er of the initial bill which provided for the display of information on the environmental characteristics of certain products “. For this reason, the article has been censored. And that is why Senator Patrick Chaize returns to the charge, with a dedicated text.

The new bill aims to propose the same provisions, but this time without linking them to a more general text of law, the object of which could be considered too different by the Constitutional Council. The first version having passed all stages of parliamentary scrutiny, there is no reason why this law, which has a single article, cannot be completed.

The government also wants Arcep to be able to establish an environmental barometer for digital players, through the establishment of a data collection power. This point is included in the executive’s digital and environment roadmap, which was presented in February 2021. Several other avenues are being explored, including the “greening” of 5G.

The stakes are high. Even if the digital sector is not the sector that emits the most greenhouse gas emissions in France compared to, for example, transport, the fact is that its share is increasing over time, due to growing needs in terms of of data centers, and the proliferation of electronic gadgets of all kinds. In any case, climate change does not offer the leisure to deprive oneself of the slightest lever to avoid an overall rise in temperatures.

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