Broadband as a universal service

25-04-2016

Universal service is the principle that all citizens should be provided with a range of basic but good quality services at affordable prices so that they are able to participate fully in society. Since 2010, functional internet access has been included in EU legislation on universal telecommunications service. However in the intervening years, the data volumes and connection speeds used by consumers have continued to increase. For some, designating broadband internet access as a universal service could complement other EU measures to ensure the availability of faster internet connections and to encourage widespread internet use in the Digital Single Market. Designating broadband as a universal service could arguably help reduce social exclusion by overcoming the 'digital divide', as well as encouraging social and economic development, particularly in rural regions where the costs of providing broadband are higher than in urban areas. On the other hand, setting an EU-wide minimum speed could distort markets, reduce competition, and reduce private investment in infrastructure projects in some Member States. Financing this change could also be a problem, particularly in those countries where broadband access is below the EU average or where many households do not currently use the internet due to cost. The forthcoming review of telecommunications regulation in the EU promises to revive debate on this subject. A recent American decision to provide subsidies for low-income families for internet access at average broadband levels highlights differences in current approaches between the United States and the EU.

Universal service is the principle that all citizens should be provided with a range of basic but good quality services at affordable prices so that they are able to participate fully in society. Since 2010, functional internet access has been included in EU legislation on universal telecommunications service. However in the intervening years, the data volumes and connection speeds used by consumers have continued to increase. For some, designating broadband internet access as a universal service could complement other EU measures to ensure the availability of faster internet connections and to encourage widespread internet use in the Digital Single Market. Designating broadband as a universal service could arguably help reduce social exclusion by overcoming the 'digital divide', as well as encouraging social and economic development, particularly in rural regions where the costs of providing broadband are higher than in urban areas. On the other hand, setting an EU-wide minimum speed could distort markets, reduce competition, and reduce private investment in infrastructure projects in some Member States. Financing this change could also be a problem, particularly in those countries where broadband access is below the EU average or where many households do not currently use the internet due to cost. The forthcoming review of telecommunications regulation in the EU promises to revive debate on this subject. A recent American decision to provide subsidies for low-income families for internet access at average broadband levels highlights differences in current approaches between the United States and the EU.