Does everyone deserve equal access to the internet? The government of the UK formally says: yes. On Dec. 20, 2017, the UK's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced that access to reliable internet service is a basic legal right that all of its inhabitants will be guaranteed. Notably, this decision came days after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States, in a three-two-vote, repealed net neutrality rules meant in part to protect fair and equitable internet access and use.
"We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection. This is all part of our work on ensuring that Britain’s telecoms infrastructure is fit for the future and will continue to deliver the connectivity that consumers need in the digital age,” UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley says.
The UK government’s goal is to ensure its 65 million residents all receive high-speed broadband with data speeds of at least 10 megabits per second of data speed (10 Mbps). This is generally considered enough for internet browsing and access to streaming content. Ofcom, the UK government-approved regulatory agency for telecommunications, postal services and broadcasting, has identified this speed as sufficient to meet the needs of “an average family.” By 2020, this service will be provided to all residents via a regulatory Universal Service Obligation (USO).
The decision to guarantee reliable internet access as a basic utility follows the passing of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which launched a government consultation process on internet access. Detailed results of the consultation and secondary legislation designing and describing the new broadband rights are planned for 2018. Bradley says the new laws "will make high speed broadband a reality for everyone in the UK, regardless of where they live or work." Making sure residents in rural areas are able to get online will be a primary focus of this initiative; the press release explains the new plan will “maximize the provision of fixed line connections in the hardest to reach areas.”
Meanwhile, with the undoing of established net neutrality regulations, internet service providers (ISPs) in the U.S. are now empowered to slow down, speed up or block internet access as they see fit, as long as they are “transparent” about these practices. ISPs will not be considered public utilities or “common carriers” any longer and so will be given considerable latitude in terms of how they provide or alter their services. Some critics of U.S. net neutrality rules say they overregulated and limited growth and innovation in the internet industry, while proponents feel they can protect foundational online information sharing and access rights.