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19th of January 2018

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The UK calls internet access a 'legal right' like water and power

Image: Getty Images2017%2f12%2f04%2f7d%2fmarkpic.c6031By Mark Kaufman2017-12-20 19:25:55 UTC

The week after the Federal Communications Commission nixed net neutrality rules in the United States, the United Kingdom decided that all 65 million of its inhabitants have a "legal right" to fast, reliable internet connectivity. 

The UK's Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport announced the decision on Dec. 20, noting that the government will require internet providers to give "everyone access to high speed broadband by 2020" — much like an electric or water utility. 

"We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection," Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said in a statement. "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."

Specifically, the UK will require telecoms to provide its customers with at least 10 megabits per second of data speed, which it considers enough "meet the requirements of an average family." Ten Mbps is widely considered to be good for surfing the web. Gamers, though, might want to buy more data capability — perhaps 20 Mbps. 

Across the sea, however, the U.S. government (or at least three of five voting FCC commissioners) is far more trusting in giant internet providers — like Verizon and AT&T — to offer Americans fair internet availability. With last week's repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules, telecoms are no longer prohibited from restricting access to different sites, favoring select content, or charging more for access to certain content. 

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai previously said the FCC will still "police" internet service providers, should they act in bad faith for American consumers. Even if such policing does occur, this still gives powerful telecoms the freedom to offer internet packages or make deals that hurt consumers or stifle competition — perhaps by tacking on fees to stream video or music from certain sites. Only then might the FCC intervene, after the fact. 

In other matters, the FCC has removed itself entirely. The Federal Trade Commission will now be tasked with making sure internet companies don't start cutting deals that hurt consumers. This is usually a high bar, giving companies plenty of latitude.

In contrast with the FCC, the UK has chosen to treat the modern internet as a utility — something that our social and economic lives are now so intertwined with that it should be offered equally to everyone within reason — just as water and electricity are offered to most households today (save extremely remote cabins, for instance).

The UK's Culture Secretary Bradley said this law "will make high speed broadband a reality for everyone in the UK, regardless of where they live or work."

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