The UK Government has just announced that from 2020, high-speed broadband will be considered a legal right for all its citizens, meaning service providers must offer access to any person that requests it. The announcement follows a proposal from BT, the UK's largest telecommunications provider, to provide universal broadband coverage to all areas of the UK under a voluntary agreement. The Government, however, felt the importance of universal broadband access required a regulatory hand in the matter.
Called the Universal Service Obligation (USO), this regulation will be sketched out in detail over the coming months but the current announcement stipulates that everyone in the UK must have access to a broadband connection of at least 10 Mbps by 2020.
The move by the UK Government comes at an interesting time, literally days after the FCC in the United States repealed the Obama-era net neutrality regulations. Part of the recent FCC action involved reversing a decision that moved the classification of internet services from a Title I "information service" to a Title II "common carrier service."
A Title II classification meant the internet could be considered under the same umbrella as telephone networks, which would allow for firmer government regulation. This classification considers internet access more as a public service, in much the same way gas and electricity are considered to be fundamental services.
While the FCC has ostensibly just moved to allow internet service providers the freedom to throttle a user's internet speed, the UK government has said internet service providers must, by law, deliver unfettered speeds of at least 10 Mbps. It is yet to be determined what details will fill out this USO regulation, but it will certainly be interesting to watch how far the UK Government looks to push this regulation into territory that resembles the net neutrality regulations that have just been overturned in the US.
The UK moving to classify broadband internet access as a "legal right" follows on from a United Nations declaration in late 2016 considering internet access to be a "human right." The UN added several amendments to its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifying free access to the internet as vital for an open society.
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