USO will be a legal right

The Government has decided and the BT USO proposal is no more and the Universal Service Obligation will be a legal right to request a minimum 10 Mbps (1 Mbps up) connection.

We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection. We are grateful to BT for their proposal but have decided that only a regulatory approach will make high speed broadband a reality for everyone in the UK, regardless of where they live or work. This is all part of our work on ensuring that Britain’s telecoms infrastructure is fit for the future and will continue to deliver the connectivity that consumers need in the digital age.

This 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 do get connected
  • the scheme will maximise the provision of fixed line connections in the hardest to reach areas.
  • 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)

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley

Update 11:30am We are adding this update to emphasis that while some media outlets are talking about this is putting a legal requirement on BT, but it is premature to suggest that just BT will be a USO operator, we can envisage a scenario where some areas may have multiple options and this what some of the pressure to reject the BT offer was around. Once more firm detail emerges in 2018 and 2019 we will be sure to cover it, we don’t doubt that BT will have a large part to play, but its too early to say BT is solely responsible and there might even be legal challenges to Ofcom decisions. The implementation by Ofcom is the next stage e.g. who you phone, how long is operator given to install service, is it a wholesale product, same or different pricing to non-USO services, is there a choice of USO operators, can you pay a supplement to get a better technology where cost threshold is breached etc and this is expected to take some two years so that would take us to 2019 and thus promise of a broadband USO in place by 2020 looks reasonable.

Of course this does not mean that the 0.8 to 1.1 million premises affected (variable number since a lot depends on continuing superfast roll-outs) will be connected by 2020, just you can if want a better connection make a request of some unknown company. On demand delivery of the broadband USO should mean that the most vocal and those most in need of a better connection will be on the phone within nanoseconds of being allowed to request the USO service, but we do wonder what will happen in in the first month some 200,000 premises phone up to request the USO service? The Ofcom design needs to take into account factors such as if a home owner requests the service delivering to just them, when maybe 6 other premises would benefit but have not requested the service and design the cost threshold accordingly since it is highly likely that once other residents find out that something better is available and does actually work they will request and for one solitary user the only cost effective option might be satellite, but with six combined thresholds you might be looking at full fibre.

Rival operators had campaigned for the rejection of the BT proposal so there may be the odd mini celebration, but without any actual detail on how it will work that may be premature, since the USO may be a pure BT responsibility even when a legal obligation. Of course this is maybe what rivals are hoping and that working to deliver the USO in piecemeal on demand method will tie Openreach and BT down giving them a bigger competitive advantage in urban areas. Our final thought, the inclusion of on-demand for the USO means tracking the success or otherwise becomes much harder, it is likely that speed test data may start to show a change.

In short the legal route is a much safer one politically as once legislation is in place the politicians job is done and if hundreds of thousands still don’t have 10 Mbps in 2025 then its that persons own fault.


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