In the modern era, the digital divide is more evident and apparent than ever before. This has led people to weigh the pros and cons of offering internet access as a public utility. The public utilities include electricity, water, gas. These utilities usually have a monopolistic power for the service they offer. What would happen if the internet becomes a utility? To explain in simple terms, if something like that happens, the internet would face massive regulations and the prices will entirely depend on the company’s discretion.
The issue comes with our public utilities infrastructure that is already outdated and to be honest, the nature of all these services does not necessarily fit the nature of the internet. Given the business-wise structure of all the other public utility companies, it would have serious repercussions to offer the internet as a utility. It has countless problems associated with it.
The biggest problem of them all would be the elimination of the healthy competition between the internet service providers. As a result, the nationally cohesive internet coverage would suffer which is crucial for the growth of technology and everyone’s right to have internet access.
The digital divide explains the inability of some people to access the internet. It is a contrast between the people who don’t have the ability to afford high-speed internet and technology such as smartphones or laptops and those who can afford to pay for these services and products. The divide is growing rapidly even when the internet is a crucial part of a job-search, communication, entertainment, and all the other important duties. Therefore, an infringement in the right to access the internet can have grave consequences for future generations.
Elimination of competition
The only reason the internet industry is thriving because there is healthy competition. The internet is an important resource and ideally, it should be accessible to everyone in all shapes and forms. However, the same way you pay your electricity bills, we can make the internet accessible to the public without having the need to create a centrally owned, monopolized utility.
Consider this, even if something like this happens, it will leave us with one provider in a designated area. This will only hurt all the consumers in the long run as it would eliminate the competition. This competition is crucial for economics.
Internet is too interlinked
The internet we get through cable, fiber, and satellite comes with additional perks. For example, if you sign-up for Mediacom internet plans, you have the option to bundle it with TV and phone service as well. The internet-TV combos are offered with additional perks and you can sign-up for them to save on your monthly bill. This means that the internet connections we have are so interlinked and if we make the internet a utility, it will clearly impact all the other forms of entertainment as well. This will have serious repercussions even for the TV and digital phone service. The prices will be higher and we can expect to have it out of the reach of an average American.
How does the world deal with the issue?
The rest of the world has strict laws and regulations in place to curb the increase in prices of the internet. They don’t allow the accumulation of the entire infrastructure to certain entities and create a healthy working environment for everyone to grow. For example, if you are a big internet company in Europe and own massive infrastructure for supplying the internet, the regulations would force you to lease your infrastructure to other internet companies for a limited duration of time. This means that the power is not concentrated among a handful of internet companies and is evenly distributed. Therefore, all companies have a level-playing field for growth. In those countries, it is easier to make the internet a utility as they take serious actions to curb monopolies.
However, the United States is already being run by four to five internet service providers and making it a utility would already strengthen their position to the core, leaving all the other providers at a disadvantage.