Government Confirms Legal Right To High Speed Broadband

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

Pledge that everyone in UK will have legal right to broadband speeds of at least 10 Mbps by 2020

Every household and business in the UK will from 2020 have a legal right to access broadband speeds of at least 10 Mbps after the government confirmed a regulatory Universal Service Obligation (USO).

Earlier this month an Ofcom report revealed that more than a million homes and businesses in the UK still can’t receive ‘decent’ broadband ( at least 10Mbps download and upload speeds of at least 1Mbps).

router internet DSL SOHO gateway broadband © Ensuper Shutterstock

Legal Requirement

Now Openreach will be required to deliver high speed connectivity to those sitting in the wrong side of the digital divide.

“This is the speed that Ofcom, the independent regulator, says is needed to meet the requirements of an average family,” said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. “After careful consideration the government has decided that regulation is the best way of making sure everyone in the UK can get a decent broadband connection of at least 10 Mbps as soon as possible.”

The Government had launched a consultation on the design of the regulatory USO in the summer, and now will bring this legal right to high speed broadband in secondary legislation early next year.

The Government essentially has rejected the proposal it had received from BT that would see the company deliver 10Mbps for anyone in the UK who demands it rather than be subjected to the USO.

“We welcomed BT’s proposal and have considered this in detail alongside a regulatory approach,” said the department. “We did not feel the proposal was strong enough for us to take the regulatory USO off the table, and have therefore decided not to pursue BT’s proposal in favour of providing a legal right to broadband.”

It said that while it welcomed BT’s continued investment to deliver broadband to all parts of the UK, it felt that only a “regulatory USO offers sufficient certainty and the legal enforceability that is required to ensure high speed broadband access for the whole of the UK by 2020.”

“We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection,” said Culture Secretary Karen Bradley. “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.”

The government feels that the USO will also ensure that the minimum speed of connection can be increased over time as consumers’ connectivity requirements evolve. It will also provide for greater enforcement to help ensure households and businesses do get connected; and it will maximise the provision of fixed line connections in the hardest to reach areas.

It also 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).

BT Response

BT for its part seems to accept the new service obligation requirements placed on Openreach.

“We respect the Government’s decision,” a BT spokesperson told Silicon . “BT and Openreach want to get on with the job of making decent broadband available to everyone in the UK so we’ll continue to explore the commercial options for bringing faster speeds to those parts of the country which are hardest-to-reach.”

“Alongside this, we’ll work closely with Government, Ofcom and industry to help deliver the regulatory USO. We look forward to receiving more details from the Government outlining its approach to defining the regulatory USO, including the proposed funding mechanism.”

Recent research from uSwitch found that Thorpe Lane in Tromley St Martin, Suffolk is the UK’s slowest street for broadband, registering average speeds of just 0.68Mbps – 53 times slower than the UK average and 260 times slower than the fastest road in the country.

The fastest road in the UK is Benford Avenue in Motherwell which boasts 177.01Mbps.

At present, the Openreach superfast broadband network reaches more than 26.5 million properties. But problems still exist.

Last month for example villagers in the village of Templeton in Devon burnt an effigy of Openreach on Bonfire Night, highlighting the discontent that some rural areas have with their broadband service.

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