Is broadband a public utility? Does it matter?
Sep 23, 2021 by Manuel R. Marti

Blog

LocationGlobal
RegionsGlobal
TagsColombia, Internet, regulation, Utility

Looking at a list of utilities, most people today would likely identify a missing piece, broadband.

In this day and age, where much of our professional and personal lives revolves around the Internet, shouldn’t it be considered a utility?

Over 75 per cent of US consumers thinks so, according to a study published by Consumer Reports.

These results should not come as a surprise given that a staggering 162 million Americans are not using the internet at broadband speeds. 

Governments around the globe have been tinkering with the idea for quite some time. There are numerous initiatives and subsidies being implemented worldwide to help support broadband rollouts, such as the FCC’s 20 billion rural fund, that resonate this belief. 

There’s even an Internet Service Provider (ISP) out there named “the 4th utility”. 

A recent report published by the UK government suggests that the country should “designating broadband as an essential utility”.

This summer, Colombia went ahead and passed an amendment to a 2009 law, declaring the internet as an essential and universal public service.

Under the new bill, the internet is comparable to the likes of water, electricity and gas and access to it will be guaranteed at an affordable and affordable and competitive price, regardless of geographic location.

If one, however, were to treat broadband as an utility, then we surely could expect far more regulation. Traditional utilities are usually rate-regulated, meaning that their rates and operations must by approved by the respective authorities.

That public utility status would almost certainly complicate the economics of internet provision.

It’s hard to imagine how making it a public utility would reduce costs or the existing challenges of reaching those who do not have access, nor would it promote and encourage innovation more efficiently. 

Regardless of its status, we surely should be asking how we can do better to connect the  3.7 billion people with no internet access.