Spain mandates affordable broadband for all

The country's government is following the lead of Finland and making affordable broadband a legal right.

Spanish officials said earlier this week that the government will require service providers to offer broadband with speeds of at least 1 Mbps at regulated rates to residents living anywhere in the country.

A frenzy over a new Sony Ericsson smartphone at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last February.
A frenzy over a new Sony Ericsson smartphone at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last February. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

The Spanish telecommunications minister issued a statement Tuesday declaring that broadband would be added to the country's so-called "universal service," which guarantees reasonably priced telephone service to citizens, Reuters reported. The goal is to offer affordable broadband with speeds of at least 1 Mbps to residents by 2011.

To achieve this goal the Spanish government will require any service provider that gets universal service funds to also include broadband services to any home as part of its service.

Last month, Finland's minister of communications announced a similar plan . By July 1, 2010, every person in Finland will have the right to a 1 Mbps connection.

While the 1Mbps speeds don't sound like much, Spanish and Finnish officials say it's just the beginning. They hope this speed will serve as a starting point. And they believe that network operators will increase speeds over time.

Finland has already established aggressive public policies in place to encourage more ubiquitous and faster broadband deployments. In 2008, the Finnish government said it would pay a third of the cost to wire the country with fiber by 2015.

These mandates come at a time when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is drafting a national broadband policy that outlines a plan for policies to help provide universal broadband to every American. The plan will be presented to Congress in February 2010.

In a report this week to the FCC, the task force working on the national broadband policy highlighted several barriers to universal broadband , including problems with the U.S. Universal Service Fund. But taking action to change the system is difficult.

The U.S. Universal Service Fund subsidizes the cost of building telephone infrastructure throughout the country in places where it is too expensive to deploy such services. Much of the money from this fund, which is collected from consumers as part of their monthly phone bills, is still being used to subsidize regular telephony service. Many policy makers and government officials say the program needs to be revised to include broadband. And the funding mechanism also needs to be revised.

While many consumer advocates believe the U.S. government should take a more active role in directing policy in way similar to what is happening in Finland and Spain, it's important to note that the U.S. is a much larger country by population and geography than either of these countries. To put it in context, Finland has about 5.3 million residents, compared to more than 300 million people who live in the U.S.

Developing and funding universal broadband access in the U.S. will cost anywhere between $20 billion and $350 billion, according to government estimates. That said, establishing a clear policy road map could help pave the way to truly affordable high speed Internet access everywhere in the U.S.

 

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