The services to be included in the scope of universal and service access (UAS) will change as technology and society change. Because of this, in 2002, the European Union (EU) built into the EU Universal Service Directive a requirement that the scope of universal service (US) obligations be reviewed every three years. To be included in the scope of a UAS policy, a service has to satisfy two tests:
- In the light of social, economic and technological developments, has the ability to use the service become essential for social inclusion; and
- Are normal commercial forces unable to make the service available for all to use?
The scope of US in the EU was originally confined to telephony at a fixed location for voice calls, fax calls and data calls (for narrowband Internet using dial-up). The first review of the scope took place in 2006. Two services, mobile telephony and broadband Internet were new candidates for addition to the US’s scope.
After consultation, reported in Communication on Report regarding the outcome of the Review of the Scope of Universal Service,
neither mobile telephony or broadband Internet, was added for the following reasons:
- Mobile telephony passed the first requirement—ability to use a mobile phone is now seen as essential for social inclusion in Europe—however, normal commercial forces had led to widespread availability and use of mobile phones, so the balance of opinion was that there was no need for regulatory intervention to achieve universal mobile service;
- Broadband Internet, on the other hand, failed the first test—well under half of European households subscribe to broadband Internet and currently it isn’t seen as essential for social inclusion. Therefore, the second test was not applied.
In 2008, broadband Internet is defined by the ITU and OECD as always on service with download speeds equal or faster than 256 Kbps. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States defines broadband as 768 kbps or faster. Broadband speeds develop rapidly: in 2004 the average advertised broadband speeds were typically 2 Mbps in OECD countries, while this increased to almost 9 Mbps in 2007. However, the European Commission finds that actual download speeds are between 144 and 512 kbps in rural areas and 1 Mbps in urban areas in the years 2004 and 2005. Despite not including broadband into the scope of universal service, the EU is very active in promoting and expanding broadband take-up and in providing access to above minimum download speed broadband also in rural areas for quality of life, social inclusion and economic-strategic reasons. The European Commission believes all Europeans need broadband access [1
]. Finland may be leading the way in Europe to including broadband internet access in the definition of "universal service". In October 2009, the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications issued a decree that amended the definition of “universal service” to include access to an Internet connection featuring a download rate of at least 1 Mbps.
For developing countries, modified forms of this general test regarding which services to include into the UAS scope might be preferred. The main driver for UAS may be economic before social factors come to the fore, so policy makers in developing countries could ask the following questions:
- In light of economic, social, and technological developments, has the ability to use the service become essential for uniform countrywide economic development or social inclusion; and
- Are normal commercial forces unable to make the service available for all to use, within a timescale consistent with the contribution of the service that will meet the Millennium Development Goals?
If the answer to the first question is affirmative, then UAS goals should be set for the service. Social research can help clarify what has become a new social norm. This might be, for example, the greatest distance that it is reasonable for people to travel in order to use phones or the Internet. The Practice Note Finding out what the necessities of life are and how many people lack them
shows one approach to social research used in the UK.
If, in addition, the answer to the second question is affirmative, and normal commercial forces cannot guarantee that the goals are achieved soon enough, then regulatory intervention is needed. Later chapters of this module discuss effective forms of regulatory intervention.
These test questions relate specifically to whether a service can be accessed by everyone. They refer to uniform countrywide economic development, not just to a country’s general economic development. A service such as broadband Internet might be essential to the overall economic development of a developing country [2
]. But while uniform countrywide economic development is desirable, it is rarely regarded as essential on the same time scale as the overall economic development of the country.
- Broadband growth and policies in OECD countries, OECD 2008
- For discussions of the role of broadband in economic development see Information Economy Report 2006: The development perspective (UNCTAD, 2006).