This Commons Library Briefing details the Government’s plans to introduce a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband.Jump to full report >>
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.
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:
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.
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.
The minimum technical standards proposed for the USO proposed are:
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%).
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