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The Universal Service Obligation (USO) for Broadband

Published Monday, June 24, 2019

This Commons Library Briefing provides information about the Government's Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband.

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What is the broadband USO?

The Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband is a UK-wide measure intended as a “safety net” to deliver broadband to those premises that do not have access to a decent and affordable connection. This means a connection that can deliver 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 1 Mbps upload speed (along with other defined quality parameters) and costs less than £45 per month.

The USO provides a legal right to request a decent broadband connection, up to a cost threshold of £3,400.

BT (and KCOM in Hull) have been designated as the Universal Service Providers responsible for fulfilling requests from eligible consumers.

What are the eligibility criteria?

Residents and businesses are eligible for the USO if:

  • they do not have access to a decent broadband connection (10 Mbps download speed, 1 Mbps upload speed and other specified quality parameters); or
  • if the only service available that can provide the minimum criteria costs more than £45 per month; and
  • the property is not due to be connected to a publicly funded roll-out scheme within 12 months; and
  • the connection will cost no more than £3,400 to build (or the customer has chosen to pay the excess above that amount).

As of January 2019, approximately 620,000 premises across the UK, mostly in rural areas, did not have access to a decent broadband connection.

When will it be available?

Consumers and businesses will be able to request connections from 20 March 2020.

Once a request is made, there are standards placed on BT and KCOM for how quickly they must assess and deliver on requests for connections. 

What technology will be used?

Any technology capable of delivering the minimum technical USO standards could be considered to deliver connections, including 4G mobile broadband. In practice, most connections under the USO are likely to use Fibre-to-the-Cabinet or full-fibre technology.

Depending on the technology used to deliver the connection some consumers may receive a higher quality connection than the minimum standards.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8146

Author: Georgina Hutton

Topic: Telecommunications

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