We are privileged to live in the age of internet. It may be the single most revolutionary invention of mankind, meaning, it has impacted our lives in a way comparable to the one exerted by, say, the wheel, the electric motor, the printing press, the telephone.
In fact, internet has not only impacted our lives, but has resulted in their expansion, i.e. doubling. Because, nowadays, we live in the virtual world, as much as in the physical one. Why wouldn’t we?
Thanks to the internet, we stay connected with the people we love even though they most of the time they’re not around, we do business with clients millions of miles away from us, we buy all kinds of products and services with a single click, we stay updated with the latest news and current affairs and much more.
Taking all this into consideration, can anyone honestly say that the internet is still a luxury? We doubt it.
It has obviously become a need, a sort of prerequisite to feel as a human being in the 21st century.
Even though it’s a bit outdated, the information is still shocking: just until a year ago, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), UK’s regulatory authority for broadcasting, required from Internet Service Providers to adhere to a decade old USO (Universal Service Obligations) and deliver a telephone service that includes the ability to offer “data rates that are sufficient to permit functional internet access”!
Let us translate this for you: since even when you had a dialup connection and downloaded everything at 28.8Kbps, you had “a functional internet access”, Ofcom’s legally binding USO meant that if you’re living in a sparsely populated rural area and your ISP was not interested in you as a customer, it could have lawfully offered you dialup speeds without blinking an eye!
David Cameron, UK’s Prime Minister, has recently recognized the gravity of the problem and issued the following statement:
“Access to the Internet shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be a right – absolutely fundamental to life in 21st century Britain. That is why I’m announcing a giant leap in my digital mission for Britain. 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.” – via gov.uk
And this comes merely few months after Ofcom appended to the USO a non-binding pledge to deliver minimum download speed of 2Mbps in the form of a Universal Service Commitment (USC).
Now, Ofcom is making another step forward: following Cameron’s statement, it has suggested that internet will not be treated as a luxury anymore, and will be given the same priority as are water, gas, and electricity. In order to increase trust and transparency, Ofcom has also released a network monitoring app which should tell users whether they’re getting the speeds they paid for or not; and what to do in the case of the latter.
And here’s where it gets exciting.
Cameron has pledged that by 2020 – meaning: just four years from now – up to 98 percent of Britain’s population – meaning: especially those 1.4 million who struggle even with YouTube videos – will be able to download at speeds greater than 10Mbps! Fixed-line setups is only one of the ways the government intends to make this a reality. It is already rumoured that they consider using a satellite, in addition to numerous wireless and mobile networks. The goal, however, remains the same: 10Mbps for everybody.
But, 10Mbps in 2016, you think? At a time when Google is introducing us to Fiber’s gigabit per second and is working on few even newer internet projects? Isn’t this a bit belated? Will it be enough for me?
Even more than enough. A stable 10Mbps connection is all that you need to use Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, and Skype. In fact, even a slower connection (say, 4Mbps) should be enough for you to establish a high-quality Skype call or watch HD Videos without buffering.
I knew this, you say. But it’s not what I had in mind. In fact, maybe I should rephrase my question: will 10Mbps be enough for me in 10 years’ time?
That’s a better question and the answer is, regretfully, maybe not. But don’t worry, since this time, the USO is said to have been formulated in such a manner so that future amendments are more easily inserted and approved.
In other words, Ofcom and the government will keep a close eye at all times, and will increase the minimum speed requirements as soon as this is deemed to be necessary.
Now, Cameron mentioned UK’s economy. But, how does internet speed affect the economy? What does the “98%/10Mbps/2020 plan” mean in practical terms?
Well, under the new USO, small businesses should start thriving. Nearly half of Britain’s companies consider internet essential for their prosperity. Many of them, however, are not even aware of the availability of high speed broadband or dedicated internet access, mostly due to the fact that ISPs enjoy promoting maximum speeds, but leave it up to their users to hunt – among the small lettered footnotes – for the minimums and what they are actually getting.
In fact, numerous business owners openly admit that they aren’t aware of the differences between the offered internet packages and hesitate to either subscribe or upgrade their own, fearing that they might be tricked and not get the value for their money.
This is about to change, however, since very soon “I have a right to a minimum speed of 10Mbps” should become something of a mantra. And the moment small businesses start using high speed internet will be the moment when they will become much more competitive on the market, forcing larger companies to lower their prices or improve their services.
Of course, it will take some time before the 98/10/2020 plan becomes reality, because – no point in beating around the bush – 10Mbps for everybody is a very expensive and risky plan.
First of all, there is no guarantee that people living in the rural areas – as we have already pointed out, these constitute the majority of those deprived of high speed internet – will be interested in actually embracing the plan and pay for the new minimum.
The problem is that, in announcing its plan, the government has actually made it clear that it has opted for the “if you build it, they will come” initiative, meaning that, after investing money to make the necessary infrastructure possible, it will hope that people will upgrade their current internet packages and pay for at least some of the cost as future subscribers.
Unless the government knows for sure that theÂ majority of people wants faster internet, even at first glance, it seems unrealistic to expect that every Briton will be downloading at speeds higher than 10Mbps.
Of course, this is merely a speculation, since, after all, we’re talking about no more than 2-4% of the whole population.
But it’s a speculation worthy of a more serious consideration.
UK’s intent to make 10Mbps internet speeds possible for 98% of British citizens by the end of 2020 is one of the most ambitious plans of its kind. Needless to add: it’s also one of the most progressive to have ever been put on paper.
Provided that the pricing is competitive, the new USO should be a blessing for everybody. It should have a positive impact both on the economy and the quality of life of UK’s citizens. As a result, Great Britain may as well become the first fully digitized country in Europe, and – dare we say? – the first country to enter the future of mankind.