Think Internet access is a universal right? You may want to consider a move to the United Kingdom. On Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged “fast broadband” to everyone living in his country, noting that all of his country’s citizens have “the legal right to request a connection to broadband with speeds of 10Mbps, no matter where they live.” Currently, the U.K.’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) stands at speeds of 2Mbps, which means that Cameron will have to quintuple present offerings over the next five years in order to meet his promise. And while politicians don’t have the best track record for delivering on their pledges, the Prime Minister seems particularly set on this initiative.
“Access to the Internet shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be a right — absolutely fundamental to life in 21st-century Britain,” Cameron said in a statement. “Just as our forebears effectively brought gas, electricity, and water to all, we’re going to bring fast broadband to every home and business that wants it. That’s right: We’re getting Britain — all of Britain — online, and on the way to becoming the most prosperous economy in the whole of Europe.”
Already, the U.K. has a strong online presence, with official estimates stating that over 83 percent of homes and businesses across the nation have broadband connections of 24Mbps, considered “superfast.” This proportion is projected to reach 95 percent within the next two years. But it’s the small percentage of Brits who have yet to experience these connection speeds who the government is now targeting. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said, “We want to upgrade the universal service obligation to provide fast broadband speeds of 10Mbps for the very hardest to reach homes and businesses. Those at the end of the line [are the ones] we are desperate to get to.”
Despite these admirable goals, critics have been quick to point out the flaws in the prime minister’s plans, pointing at both a history of broken promises from both Cameron and the government at large. This is by no means the first time the British legislature has attempted to roll out universal access to the Internet, but they haven’t exactly been successful. And now, there are questions as to where exactly the funding for this “superfast” connectivity is going to come from.
“Five years after abandoning Labour’s fully funded commitment to universal broadband, the government’s “superfast” broadband rollout is still being hit with delays and at the mercy of a single provider,” said Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for culture and the digital economy.
Still, a commitment at least implies a recognition of need, and at the very least, that is a step in the right direction.