Universal Broadband: A Basic Human Right?

Electricity was the big invention during the 20th century. The governments at that time took the measures that were necessary to ensure that electricity was available at reasonable prices to every citizen. This is the reason why electricity is such an integral part of any human civilization today.

Just like electricity was the biggest innovation in the 20th century, broadband internet is the biggest innovation now. It is for this reason that many people are of the opinion that just like electricity, the government should also make efforts to ensure that each human being has access to fast broadband at a reasonable price.

In this article, we will have a closer look at the policy of universal broadband. We will also list down the pros and cons of this policy.

What Is Universal Broadband?

A service can be called to be a universal service when it becomes the government’s responsibility to ensure its availability at a reasonable price. The call for universal broadband is being heard in most nations in the developed world. The national government in the United Kingdom is considering whether to declare broadband as a universal service. Some local governments in the United States have already taken this step. Consider the case of California, which has recently enacted the “Internet for All Now” act. Similar programs are also being undertaken in states like New York, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the European Union is also on the verge of implementing the universal broadband system.


  • Overcoming the Digital Divide: The basic doctrine behind the above-mentioned policy is that the internet has not become an integral part of our day to day lives. Hence, any human being who does not have access to high-speed internet is at a disadvantage. They do not have access to a wide range of free services such as education and jobs because of the lack of internet. This phenomenon has been named the “digital divide.” It means that opportunities are only concentrated in the hands of the urban people whereas the poor and the rural are left out. The biggest argument in favor of universal broadband is that it will help in the removal of this digital divide.
  • Economic Efficiency: The introduction of the universal internet is also likely to improve the efficiency in any given region. Mundane tasks such as grocery shopping and payment of bills which take a lot of time in the real world can be accomplished within seconds. Also, with the advent of online shopping, consumers have access to a wide variety of goods and services once they are online. Hence, when the universal internet is implemented, the end result is the increase in competition. This exerts a downward pressure on the prices of goods and services which creates more efficiency in the economy.


There are many obvious advantages to having universal internet. However, there are also several disadvantages which are not as obvious. Let’s have a closer look at some of the disadvantages.

  • Subsidy to Telecom Giants: Many critics of the policy of universal broadband believe that this policy is the result of a lobbying initiative by telecom giants. This policy obviously benefits them a lot. Under the guise of this policy, telecom companies will end up convincing the state to pay the internet bill for everybody. Hence, the intentions behind this policy may not really be as altruistic as they are being claimed.
  • Loss Making Endeavors: Depending on how the policy is framed, the universal broadband initiative could also lead to a lot of losses for the telecom companies. Critics of this policy want to ensure that the government only assists broadband companies if they agree to serve all the sectors in the nation. This means that in order to get government assistance, they will have to provide internet in areas where the market is small and underdeveloped. In such areas, the cost of providing the service will be much more than the revenue received. This is the reason why there is a possibility that private firms will not co-operate with the government despite the allure of subsidies.
  • Market Distortions: It is a known fact that markets function in the best possible manner with as little government interference as possible. However, governments in the European Union and in other parts of the world are trying to forcibly get the markets to behave in certain ways. As a result, they are distorting the natural way in which markets distribute capital. The end result of this exercise will be that markets will end up allocating more capital to universal broadband projects. This will be at the expense of better projects that will be left behind as a result of government interference. If the government wants to ensure that people have better access to broadband, it should reduce the regulation and taxation rather than explicitly interfering in the market’s process for rationing capital.

To sum it up, there are mixed reactions to the idea of universal broadband. Some people believe that it is a socialist policy that will make the government pay for private usage. On the other hand, others believe that this policy has the potential to bridge the huge urban-rural divide that prevails in the market today.

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