Author(s): Peter Bryer
It didn't take long: broadband Internet access has gone from a luxury to necessity in less than a generation. Compared with running water, electricity or phone lines, access to the Web has become a modern prerequisite in record time.
In developed countries, the digitally disconnected are easily excluded from the job market and educational opportunities. This has driven many regions to recognise broadband Internet access as a fundamental human need that could be supported by government initiatives. Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Switzerland and the UK have passed laws along these lines, making Internet access a government mandate.
Universal Internet is now being discussed by US legislators and telecom regulators. Some government statistics suggest that about 100 million people in the US still don't have household access to broadband. The argument is that constant Internet access has become so fundamental that digital divides are building even in advanced markets.
A group of US senators are looking to repurpose a "lifeline" ruling (that currently includes rights to basic phone services) to cover Internet access. The move would ensure that low-income households are offered affordable connectivity through subsidies.
The senators' Broadband Adoption Act of 2015 has an apparent goal of 100 percent digital inclusion, and households will be able to choose between fixed-line and mobile access (though hardware appears to be a separate issue). Support for mobile Internet use could be a chance for operators to expand their services to tens of millions.
High-speed Internet access has moved from a lab experiment to a government-stamped modern necessity within a few decades, and this progress highlights particularly accelerated changes. Technologies of different sorts are becoming quickly embedded into society, establishing themselves as standards.
The Internet is now officially a modern form of plumbing, and business opportunities are emerging on top of this layer. From blockchains to robotics, technologies are advancing and could soon reach their own rites of passage.