You are here:

House of Commons Library

A Universal Service Obligation (USO) for Broadband

Published Friday, December 22, 2017

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

Jump to full report >>

What is the broadband USO?

The UK Government is introducing a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband as part of its commitment in the UK Digital Strategy (March 2017) to ensure that the UK has world-class digital connectivity and inclusion.

The new USO is a UK-wide measure, intended to fill the gap left by the UK Government’s existing broadband roll-out programs, to deliver broadband connections to the hardest to reach premises in the UK. The USO is intended to provide a legal right to request a broadband connection of at least 10 Mbps download speed, up to a reasonable cost threshold.

The Digital Economy Act 2017 gives the UK Government the power to implement the USO via secondary legislation. The Act also 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.

How will it be implemented?

The UK Government was considering two options for the delivery of its aim for universal access to broadband connections with at least 10 Mbps download speeds by 2020:

  • a regulatory approach implemented by secondary legislation; and
  • a proposal by BT to deliver the service voluntarily.

The Government announced in December 2017 that it would adopt the regulatory approach. Under this framework, the USO will be demand-led. This means that consumers will have a right to request a connection. A universal service provider (most likely BT) will be obliged to build all reasonable requests up to cost threshold (£3400 proposed). The USO is expected to be funded by a cost-sharing industry fund.

When will the USO be implemented?

The Government is aiming for the USO to be in place by 2020 at the latest. Secondary legislation is expected to be laid before Parliament in early 2018. Responsibility will then fall to Ofcom to implement the USO.

Technical specifications

The minimum technical standards proposed for the USO proposed are:

  • 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 (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. Satellite connections are unlikely to fulfil the additional quality parameters, but will probably be the only option for some consumers (approx. 0.2%).

How many premises will be affected?

Ofcom reported that as of May 2017, 1.1 million premises (4%) in the UK would qualify for the USO based on the proposed technical specifications.

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

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8146

Author: Georgina Hutton

Topic: Telecommunications

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.