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House Of Lords Demands 30Mbps USO In Digital Economy Bill Defeat

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Not fast enough. Lords sends Digital Economy Bill back to the Commons after universal service obligation defeat for broadband

The House of Lords has handed the Conservatives a defeat not over its Brexit plans, but for its Digital Economy Bill.

The Lords voted that a universal service obligation (USO) of 10Mbps for broadband connections was simply not good enough.

The Lords wants something much more radical. It approved a massive rise of the minimum download speed to 30Mbps (6Mbps upload).

router internet DSL SOHO gateway broadband © Ensuper ShutterstockUniversal Service Obligation

At the moment, the national Broadband Delivery UK programme has set itself the target of delivering a fixed line ‘superfast broadband’ line speed of 24Mbps and more for 97 percent of the UK, by 2020 (superfast broadband coverage is expected to reach 95 percent this year).

However that target is not legally binding.

The government, via its Digital Economy Bill, would make it legally binding for BT and other suppliers to deliver a universal service obligation (USO) of 10Mbps.

That USO would mean that 10Mbps would be the absolute minimum when firms deploy a ‘superfast broadband’ connection to the final 3 percent of premises in the UK by 2020.

The USO differs from previous government initiatives like Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), which is supply-led. BT has indicated a willingness to help deliver the USO using long range VDSL over copper connections, while satellite and fixed wireless technologies will also be likely candidates.

It seems that the Labour Party’s Lord Mendelsohn succeeded in getting the Lords to vote for a radically different amendment for the bill.

According to ISPReview, the amendment was actually first proposed by Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones last month, although a key change is that Mendelsohn has also managed to include mobile network coverage into the USO.

“The universal service order must specify as soon as reasonably practicable that, by 2020, the following will be available in every household in the United Kingdom – (a) download speeds of 30 megabits per second;(b) upload speeds of 6 megabits per second;(c) fast response times;(d) committed information rates of 10 megabits per second;(e) an unlimited usage cap.(2BB),” reads the amendment.

“My Lords, I am pleased to move Amendment 1 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones,” said Lord Mendelsohn.

“I thank Ofcom for its helpful advice and clear and comprehensive responses to our questions, as well as the excellent documents it has published on the matter I also thank the Minister for his willingness to listen. I hope he appreciates that we have also listened carefully.”

Fibre To The Premises

And that is not all. The Lords also voted that the USO by 2020 must have speeds of 2 gigabits or more; fibre to the premises (FTTP) as a minimum standard; appropriate measures to ensure that internet speed levels are not affected by high contention ratios; and appropriate measures to ensure service providers run low latency networks.

There is no word on how BT and others are expected to find the funding to deliver this USO.

So what happens next? Well, it should be noted that the Government has already pledged to hold a public consultation on the design of the USO, once work on the bill is completed.

This means that the USO could be watered down or removed completely before the bill becomes an act.

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