Should internet access be considered a utility?

As the House of Lords begin their debate on whether internet access should be considered a utility, the US Federal Communications Commission has approved a number of rule changes on how ‘broadband providers’ should behave with regards to Net Neutrality. The FCC has ruled that broadband access should be reclassified as a telecommunications service, providers can’t block or speed up connections for a fee and content can’t be prioritised for a fee. Pretty significant changes to an industry which already has to deal with changing technologies, uses (like the move to IPTV) and costs – and don’t think the mobile operators have got away with it; all the regulations apply to them as well.

So ignoring for the moment the issue of ‘not being able to charge to speed up connections’ I believe the changes are needed, and the structure provided provides a clearer market in which these providers can operate. I don’t believe the end user will see prices reduce, only climb, as the American market has a number of large operators who will see this regulation as an opportunity to push up costs. Back in the UK however I am less sure by the need to regulate internet access like a utility at this point in time and maybe the steps we take should be similar to those of the FCC.

Don’t get me wrong I believe at some point internet access should be seen as a utility, but at the moment with one major provider owning and operating the majority of the network in the UK, the ability to continue to deliver choice and investment is surely curtailed. The gas or electricity networks are on the whole uniform in the service received by the majority. They are also delivered in a way that makes them highly reliable and consistent, something lacking from our current data network delivery. I am sure that I wouldn’t want my gas supply to be as reliable as my home internet line was over Christmas (water on the line apparently), and I certainly don’t believe the 2 Mb/s service I receive is the same as my brother who has actual Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) delivering 200 Mb/s into his flat.

We, well my business, Fluidata, looked at this a number of years ago and believed we would make it our long term goal to build the national grid of data networks, something we have made great progress with in the last few years. There is a real need to piece together all the disparate networks across the country, and specifically the true fibre networks, rather than just the ADSL, FTTC and Cable networks that the majority of consumers currently use. Only when this is complete and the majority of homes have true fibre connections can government realistically push the industry towards utility status.

For the time being the support in helping these businesses roll out true FTTP is surely to the benefit of the country rather than potentially undermining this activity by regulation that the current infrastructure cannot support.

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