Spain ponders a broadband USO

OvumThe Spanish Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce (MITC) has opened a consultation to assess the possibility of including broadband in the Universal Service Obligation (USO). The current USO definition in Spain includes telephony, call-support services (such as phone directory and customer phone number inquiry), payphones, special tariffs for low-income customers and, like elsewhere, only “functional” narrowband internet access.
 
The consultation looks at what the minimum broadband speed should be, the role of wireless technology and suitable pricing models. A new universal service provider (USP) should be designated to provide universal services from 1 January 2010 onwards. The consultation investigates the new set of criteria to be used on the selection of the USP, including the possibility of designating different USPs for different regions.
 
After a long wait (pending since 2007), it looks as if the EU telecoms regulatory framework review will be approved in 2010. Since the EC discussed changing the Universal Service Directive (USD) by including broadband access in the USO scope, a modification of the USO regulations is expected to take place after that approval, after which all EU countries will have to transpose the obligations from the USD into their national USO regulations.
 
Switzerland became the first country to include broadband access as part of its USO in January 2008. On October 14, Finland enforced broadband at 1Mbps as a legal right, as outlined in the country’s national broadband program of December 2008.
 
France and the UK have also set out plans for country-wide broadband provision in their digital strategies. France explicitly mentions access at 512kbps for less than 35 per month becoming a universal service.
 
The UK’s Digital Britain plan sets out a 2Mbps universal service ‘commitment’, to be achieved by 2012. (For further details, see our report A comparison of digital strategies for economic recovery. )

The Italian Ministry of Public Administration recently announced a plan to provide country-wide broadband at 2Mbps by 2010. With the conclusion of the EC’s USD review due in 2010, we expect more European countries to plan for the promotion of country-wide broadband access, but the time lag between redefining the USO and transposing the changes into national law means that, for some citizens, universal broadband will remain a dream.
 
In other parts of the developed world (the US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, for example), where there is no common regulatory framework to influence national policies, the same movement of promoting broadband access can be observed.
 
However, with discrepancies in the minimum speed and progression of the plans, the inclusion of broadband under the USO in these places is likely to take even longer.
 
Australia has already selected the technologies to be used and speeds to be achieved in its plan for broadband coverage to 100% of its population by 2018. On the other hand, in Canada, despite the set timeframe (2013), the level of expansion is vague (“to as many unserved and under-served households as possible”) and a strategy needs to be developed. For some, a lot of work remains.

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