Government Sets 2020 Deadline For Universal Broadband

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The government has given Ofcom two years to put its 10 Mbps Universal Service Obligation plan into place

The government has set 2020 as the deadline by which anyone will have the legal right to an affordable 10 Mbps broadband connection.

The right is part of the Universal Service Obligation (USO), which is being implemented under last year’s Digital Economy Act.

Ofcom now has up to two years to design the framework under which the scheme will operate.

“Accessing the internet is a necessity not a luxury,” said digital minister Margot James. “We’re now putting high speed broadband on a similar footing as other essential services like water and phone lines.”

fibreIndustry funding

The USO is to be funded by industry, and not government as previously proposed, according to plans published on Wednesday.

Ofcom, which is to establish and oversee an industry fund to support USO delivery, has estimated the plan could cost up to £1.1 billion.

The fact that industry is to foot the bill means companies are likely to compensate by raising prices, meaning higher household bills.

BT had previously offered to spend £600m on a voluntary scheme to extend broadband access, a move that would have eliminated the need for a legal requirement.

But Sky Broadband and TalkTalk threatened a judicial review over competition concerns. They argued BT would seek to recoup its costs by raising wholesale broadband prices, meaning higher prices for all broadband customers.

The government formally rejected BT’s offer in December. Today it said the current USO plan provides “certainty and legal enforceability”.

“The government believes 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,” it said.

The plan implements a “reasonable cost threshold” of £3,400 per premises, which applies to about 99.8 percent of locations.

Satellite link

The remaining 0.2 percent would be able to access the required speeds via satellite or would have the option of covering the excess themselves.

A uniform pricing requirement means users connected under the USO should not pay more than those served commercially.

The government said the 10 Mbps requirement would be kept under review and “increased over time”.

“Ninety-five percent of the UK already has access to superfast broadband,” the government said. “The USO will provide a ‘digital safety net’ for those in the most remote and hardest to reach places.”

Ofcom has estimated that 1.1 million premises currently do not have access to 10 Mbps broadband.

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