The United Kingdom has vowed to make access to broadband speed internet a legal right for its citizens. Earlier this year, the passage of the Digital Economy Act ensured that by 2020, all residents of the UK will have the right to demand broadband service at speeds of at least 10 Mbps (compromised down from 30 Mbps) through a provision in the law called the Universal Service Obligation. Specific details on how the government would ensure this, however, are not included in the law.
In response to this provision, one of the UK’s largest broadband providers, BT, promised to abide by the goal and pledged to spend upwards of £600 million (more than $800 million) to extend service into the hardest to reach rural areas of the country. However, an announcement from the government states that they intend to go the regulatory route to ensure compliance.
“We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection. We are grateful to BT for their proposal but have decided that only a regulatory approach will make high-speed broadband a reality for everyone in the UK, regardless of where they live or work,” said Culture Secretary Karen Bradley.
The decision by the UK government to pursue codifying regulations over simply holding corporations to promises — which ensures that protections will be in place for its citizens, free from the whims of corporate interests — stands in stark contrast to the recent events surrounding the repeal of net neutrality rules by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in the United States.
Comcast, one of the largest telecom corporations in the U.S., used to have a net neutrality pledge promising “no paid prioritization.” That is until the FCC first unveiled its plans to eliminate the Obama-era protections. The phrasing was eliminated immediately after the announcement.
Throughout the duration of the fight leading up to the final FCC vote, net neutrality advocates had been urging Congress to codify the regulations into law. This would have ensured that three votes wouldn’t have been able to turn the tide of the internet so resoundingly in favor of massive telecoms — and against the will and best interest of the people.