'Rationing Internet' to cut screen time? Call to limit use to 3GB a week causes uproar in France

Collage with Najat Vallaud Belkacem talks, during a meeting, in Paris, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015.
Collage with Najat Vallaud Belkacem talks, during a meeting, in Paris, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. Copyright Canva/Jacques Brinon/ AP
Copyright Canva/Jacques Brinon/ AP
By Oceane Duboust
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An editorial by a former education minister calling to "ration the Internet" to 3GB a week has sparked controversy in France.


A former French education minister sparked attention this week with a bold headline on an editorial pushing to "ration the Internet".

"Freeing ourselves from screens! Let's ration the Internet!" was the title that ran on Najat Vallaud-Belkacem’s opinion piece published on Monday in Le Figaro, one of the most-read French daily newspapers.

"I would like to see some practical thinking about ways of rationing the Internet, for example, by limiting the number of gigabytes (GB) that can be used each day," Vallaud-Belkacem argued in the editorial, adding that the Internet was "less often a solution than an aggravating factor," for issues like ecology, discrimination, inequality, harassment, education, knowledge, and culture.

"Scarcity dictates a certain wisdom. If we know we only have three gigabytes to use in a week, we're probably not going to spend them posting hateful comments or making fakes," she added.

The quote quickly went viral in French media and on social platforms, garnering strong reactions.

Marina Ferrari, France's current secretary of state in charge of digital, called it "probably the worst way to approach the debate on our relationship with screens," in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

"Dealing with risks deserves so much better than a Manichean, out-of-touch approach to the digital space, where there are as many uses as there are users," she added.

What do we do with 3GB of Internet per week?

The average data usage of a French person is around 3.5GB just on mobile devices, while a French household uses on average around 55GB weekly, according to the French Telecoms Federation. This is close to the European average as well.

This consumption is expected to increase between 20 and 25 per cent annually as people watch high-definition videos, and use augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) as well as artificial intelligence (AI), according to a report from consulting firm Arthur D Little.

According to French newspaper Libération, 3GB would be the equivalent of watching two shorter movies or five hours of high-quality footage.

The digital sector’s environmental impact is not widely impacted by different tech uses. Rather, the production of hardware such as computer screens represents roughly 70 per cent of the environmental footprint of the sector in France, followed by data centres, according to regulators.

A controversial editorial

Some have questioned the scientific data on which the editorial is supposed to be based and how it would be possible to implement such a measure.

In her editorial, Vallaud-Belkacem doesn’t give any guidelines or possible framework regarding, for example, companies’ needs.

Historically, limiting the Internet has been linked to online censorship with countries like North Korea, Russia, or Iran blocking their citizens from accessing certain services.

China proposed a limit on Internet access last year to two hours a day for users under 18. It also wanted to prevent minors from accessing the Internet on mobile devices between 10 pm and 6 am.

In 2021, the country, mentioned by Vallaud-Belkacem in her opinion article, also set a video game curfew with minors being allowed to play for one hour on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

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