HomeInsightsGovernment confirms it will introduce a Universal Service Obligation for broadband

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The Government has confirmed that universal high speed broadband will be delivered by a regulatory Universal Service Obligation (USO), giving everyone in the UK access to speeds of at least 10 Mbps by 2020.

This is the speed that Ofcom, the independent regulator, says is needed to meet the requirements of an average family. The Government says that after careful consideration it has decided that regulation is “the best way of making sure everyone in the UK can get a decent broadband connection of at least 10 Mbps as soon as possible.”

Following the creation of new powers under the Digital Economy Act 2017, the Government launched a consultation on the design of the regulatory USO. The Government says it will now set out the design for a legal right to high speed broadband in secondary legislation early this year, alongside its detailed response to the consultation.

Ofcom’s implementation is expected to take two years from when we lay secondary legislation, meeting the Government’s commitment of giving everyone access to high speed broadband by 2020.

In the summer, the Government received a proposal from BT to deliver universal broadband through a voluntary agreement. The Government says it welcomed BT’s proposal and considered it in detail alongside a regulatory approach. It did not feel the proposal was “strong enough for us to take the regulatory USO off the table”, and has therefore decided not to pursue BT’s proposal in favour of providing a legal right to broadband. The Government believes that only a regulatory USO offers sufficient certainty and the legal enforceability that is required to ensure high speed broadband access for the whole of the UK by 2020.

The Government says that a regulatory approach also brings a number of other advantages for the consumer:

  • the minimum speed of connection can be increased over time as consumers’ connectivity requirements evolve;
  • it provides for greater enforcement to help ensure households and businesses to get connected;
  • the scheme will maximise the provision of fixed line connections in the hardest to reach areas; and
  • it places a legal requirement for high speed broadband to be provided to anyone requesting it, subject to a cost threshold (in the same way the universal service right to a landline telephone works).

To read the Government’s press release in full, click here.

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