Within a month of each other, both the Spanish and Finnish governments have announced that 1Mbps will be available to every address in their countries by 2011. "Universal service" has now officially moved beyond the telephone.
While the US talks, other countries are acting. Both Finland and Spain have now decided to add "broadband" to their universal service requirements. By 2011, any Finn or Spaniard, no matter where they live, should be able to get a reliable 1Mbps connection at a reasonable price.
"Universal service": it's a common concept in developed countries, and it provides money to telephone operators and other utilities to ensure that service is extended even to places where it would not otherwise be profitable, and that prices remain reasonable. As broadband increasingly becomes an essential utility, members of Congress and US regulators at the FCC have pondered how some form of basic connectivity might be extended to every American address through the Universal Service Fund.
While one USF program does provide funds for establishing Internet access at schools and libraries, it doesn't apply to homes and business. Spain's Industry Minister announced at a conference yesterday that his country would soon require companies receiving universal service funds to make broadband available to every address by January 1, 2011. The speed is low, only 1Mbps, but this is intended only to provide the equivalent of "dial tone" service in order to at least make it possible for everyone to participate on the Internet.
Finland is following a similar path. Last month, the country's Minister of Communications announced that Finns would also get a similar 1Mbps universal service requirement, but by July 1, 2010. According to the official government announcement, the plan will "improve the quality and availability of connections in sparsely populated areas. This will promote the vitality of rural areas, provide a good environment for businesses, and enable electronic communications."
Finland is also mandating that "the average speed of downstream traffic must be at least 75 per cent of the required speed in a measuring period of 24 hours. In a four-hour measuring period the speed must be at least 59 per cent of the required speed."
That might not sound like much (and Finland's rules for wireless networking appear to allow even lower speeds), but the idea is more to establish a baseline of Internet service everywhere than to bring blazing speeds to the middle of Sodankylä. Once the infrastructure is in place, upgrades should be significantly easier and higher baseline speeds can be mandated down the road.
"Universal service" doesn't mean free, however; the connections will still have to be paid for by end users, though they will be subsidized in high-cost areas.
Source: ars technica