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A Universal Service Obligation (USO) for Broadband

Published Tuesday, June 5, 2018

This Commons Library Briefing details the Government’s plans to introduce a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband.

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What is the broadband USO?

The UK Government is introducing a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband. The new USO is a UK-wide measure to deliver broadband connections to the hardest to reach premises in the UK. It is intended to fill the gap left by the UK Government’s existing broadband roll-out programs.

The USO will provide a legal right to request a broadband connection of at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed. Eligible consumers and businesses will be able to request a connection under the USO and a Universal Service Provider(s) will be required to fulfil all requests up to a cost threshold of £3,400. The USO will be funded by industry through a cost-sharing fund.

The USO is underpinned by secondary legislation made under the Digital Economy Act 2017, and will be implemented by Ofcom. The Digital Economy Act allows for the Government to review the USO and to increase the minimum speed. There was broad cross-party and consumer support for the introduction of a statutory USO for broadband in general, but there were mixed views from industry stakeholders as to how universal access to broadband should be delivered.

Technical specifications

The minimum technical standards for connections made under the USO will be:

  • Minimum download speed of 10 Mbps.
  • Minimum upload speed of 1 Mbps.
  • Additional quality parameters: medium response times, a minimum data cap of 100 GBs and a contention rate of 50:1 (which means a maximum of 50 users to share one bandwidth).

A mix of technologies that meet the minimum specifications will be used to deliver the service. In 2016 Ofcom advised that satellite connections will probably be the only option for some consumers (approx. 0.2%) but may not be able to fulfil the additional quality parameters.

When will the USO be implemented?

The Government is aiming for the USO to be in place by 2020 at the latest. Secondary legislation was laid in Parliament in March 2018, and came into force on 23 April 2018. Ofcom has responsibility to implement the USO and that process is expected to take up to two years. Several factors need to be finalised, such as the designation of a universal service provider, and the design of an industry cost-sharing fund. Ofcom’s first document on the USO implementation is expected in summer 2018.

How many premises will be eligible?

Ofcom reported that as of January 2018, 925,000 premises in the UK (3%) would qualify for the USO based on the proposed technical specifications.

The USO will be available only to those consumers that do not have access to broadband connections that fulfil the minimum standards, not those who have such a connection available but choose not to subscribe to it. The number of premises covered by the USO will ultimately depend on the number of consumers that register.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8146

Author: Georgina Hutton

Topic: Telecommunications

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