These days you wouldn’t be too impressed to move into a new property only to find that the appropriate infrastructure for Internet access has not been installed; however this happens more often than most people think. Regular use of the Internet has become commonplace in most people’s day-to-day lives, so much so that not being able to get online can massively hinder both individuals and businesses.
This is why many will support the recent petition by the House of Lords to reclassify the Internet as a utility instead of a luxury that only certain parts of the population have access to. Last week, the Lords’ Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future report was published, in which it stated: "We are concerned about the pace of universal Internet coverage and the delivery of superfast broadband. In particular, we find it unacceptable that, despite government efforts, there are still urban areas experiencing internet ‘not-spots', which is hampering universal coverage and the UK's international competitiveness.
"We agree with our witnesses who urged that the government should define the Internet as a utility service that is available for all to access and use. This is the bedrock of digital competitiveness."
Countries such as Estonia are already leading the way when it comes to offering Internet access as a legal right to all, and recently the US published a bid to have Internet access reclassified under Title II – also making it a utility. By not approaching the idea that Internet access should be accessible to all, the UK may therefore start to fall behind, a move that could cause mass criticism.
In fact, Tim Berners-Lee, the man often credited with inventing the World Wide Web, has recently claimed that net neutrality is "critical for Europe's future". In a blog on the European Commission website, Berners-Lee wrote: "When I designed the web, I deliberately built it as a neutral, creative and collaborative space, building on the openness the Internet offered. My vision was that anyone, anywhere in the world could share knowledge and ideas without needing to buy a licence or ask permission from myself or any CEO, government department or committee.
"This openness unleashed a tidal wave of innovation, and it is still powering new breakthroughs in science, commerce, culture and much more besides. Imagine if a new start-up or service provider had to ask permission from, or pay a fee to, a competitor before they could attract customers. This sounds a lot like bribery or market abuse, but it is exactly the type of scenario we would see if we depart from net neutrality."
The Lords’ report stated that schools in particular are losing out due to the digital divide, and said: "The UK is taking significant steps to prepare school pupils for the future digital workforce, but we risk being let down by inconsistent training for teachers. Leadership and coordination from the government in teacher training is essential."
Women who are affected by the digital divide will also be happy to hear that the issue was mentioned in the report, which said: "The government is responsible for ensuring the UK's population keeps pace with the best in the world. The paucity of women in digital and Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] is holding back UK competitiveness. Increasing the numbers of women could reap significant benefits. Girls have to be engaged earlier and across all education levels. The perception of digital and Stem jobs and subjects as male-oriented must be addressed."
Even though the House of Lords’ report has gained a considerable amount of coverage over the past week there has yet to be any official response from the government. It is likely that they will take some of their recommendations on board when it comes to reducing the UK’s digital divide, however whether they reclassify Internet access as a utility is yet to be seen.