Ofcom’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) comes into effect from March 2020. This order “guarantees” that everyone in the UK will be able to get a basic 10 Mbps broadband connection.
The latest update to Ofcom’s Connected Nations report has revealed that 578,000 premises around the UK are still short of 10 Mbps. At the moment, over 2.5 million can now get full-fibre broadband with speeds upwards of 1 Gbps.
So is the gap of broadband disparity getting even bigger?
Full-fibre coverage has risen to 8% of UK premises. Overall, 54% of the country can now get broadband speed above 300 Mbps and just 5% have less than 30 Mbps.
The explosive growth of full-fibre networks from many different providers, including Openreach, has boosted the speeds of those at the top of the scale. Between January and May, more than 400,000 premises have been connected to new gigabit networks.
Compare that to just 41,000 premises that have gained basic 10 Mbps broadband in the same time-frame. If this rate continues, more than 450,000 homes will still be without 10 Mbps when the USO hits in March.
Will the Universal Service Obligation help?
Ofcom’s USO has taken nearly two years to finally become a reality. Its aim is to provide funding that brings broadband to rural areas that aren’t commercially viable. In essence, the government is going to start paying ISPs to lay down new broadband.
From March 2020, customers can request 10 Mbps broadband from a Universal Service Provider (BT or KCOM). However, the USO will only cover £3400 towards the cost of a connection. If connecting your home costs more than that, you’ll need to pay the difference. If you don’t want to do that, you can “consider commercially available satellite broadband” – which isn’t covered by the USO in any way.
The high cost of connecting rural areas is the very reason they aren’t connected. Relatively small cash incentives, like the USO and ‘Better Broadband’ vouchers, only go a small way towards making those connections.
Openreach have recently admitted that full-fibre will need to be overbuilt on their new G.fast connections, which already reach 300 Mbps speeds. Full fibre will become crucial to the country’s infrastructure for decades to come, and building anything that isn’t fibre is essentially a waste of time.
Areas without “decent broadband” shouldn’t be getting 10 Mbps connections, they should be getting full-fibre ones.
Better than nothing?
The USO prescribes a 30 day wait for providers to assess your request for broadband. If they think it will cost more than £3400 to connect you, they have another 60 days to write up a quote. That’s almost three months of waiting before any work has even started.
The USO might help to boost the stats but, for individuals struggling without decent broadband, it is far from a guarantee of service.
5G networks could provide an alternative to fixed-line and satellite broadband for rural areas. This could, theoretically, be rolled out much faster – although it lacks the same support from Ofcom.
Either way, the race to connect the country remains as slow as ever.