You wouldn’t think decent broadband was too much to ask for, and it seems the government agrees.
To be enforced from March 2020, the UK’s broadband Universal Service Obligation will give UK residents the right to request a decent broadband service costing less than £45 a month.
For broadband USO purposes, a ‘decent’ service involves speeds of 1Mbps upload and 10Mbps download.
At the moment, around 620,000 premises in the UK have broadband speeds below this, most of them in rural areas.
In other places, broadband of this speed may be available but only for more than £45 a month.
The USO launch document also specifies that decent broadband should have a contention ratio of 50:1 (i.e. no more than 50 users sharing bandwidth at any given time).
Latency (the delay between an instruction being issued and a response being received) must also be sufficient for users to make voice calls via the web.
Residents and businesses alike will be eligible to request an upgrade to these standards under the broadband USO, if they can’t already get a decent service for less than £45 monthly.
There are other stipulations: no plans for a publicly funded connection within the next year and a cost of less than £3,400 to install the connection (unless the customer agrees to pay the excess).
Any qualifying individual, household or business can make such a request from the 20th of March 2020.
BT (and in Hull, KCOM) have been appointed by the government to handle requests for connection.
In theory, they can use any technology, but given the government’s current focus (and in light of comments by BT), it seems likely most connections will be fibre – FTTC or FTTP.
BT has predicted that 4G will be used at least partially in some cases, due to accessibility issues.
But it seems probable that most new connections will be faster than the ‘decent’ standard.
How do I request a connection under the USO?
You can ask BT or KCOM for a connection under the terms of the USO from the 20th of March next year.
From that point, BT/KCOM must confirm your eligibility within 30 days. And if you are eligible, your connection must be provided ‘as quickly as possible’.
That might sound like a cop-out, but both BT and KCOM must prove they are providing at least 80 per cent of connections within 12 months, so there is some accountability in there.
The current full-fibre roll-out, allied to the Prime Minister’s recent reduction of the timescale for introducing fast broadband across the UK, should also inspire swift responses.
If the cost of your proposed connection is more than £3,400, you can either pay the balance yourself, or wait until the price drops and then re-apply under the USO.
BT estimates around 100,000 premises are likely to be difficult to reach and may cost more than £3,400.
The residents of these buildings may prefer to pay the excess for a fibre connection, in which case there could be community grants and other funding sources available.
Once you have your connection (and thus access to good quality and affordable broadband), you will need to subscribe to a broadband provider in the usual way.
If at any point your claim under the broadband USO is dismissed as ineligible, you can challenge the decision. And if your circumstances change, you can reapply.
Is 10Mbps enough?
Many people have suggested that 10Mbps is not a ‘decent’ connection in practical terms, and that most people need faster broadband for modern services like video calling and gaming.
The authorities admit 10Mbps is unlikely to be ideal for everybody, but it will give everyone in the country a connection sufficiently fast for them to partake in today’s digital world.
And since almost all new connections will be fibre connections, anybody connected under the broadband USO will be able to upgrade their speeds by changing broadband package in the usual way.