Public Services > Central Government

Government introduces Universal Service Obligation for broadband

Matteo Natalucci Published 28 March 2018

Ofcom will be responsible for establishing industry fund to support delivery of connections


The government is introducing a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband as part of its commitment in the Digital Strategy to ensure that the UK has world-class digital connectivity and inclusion.

The new USO aims to fill the gap left by the government’s existing broadband rollout programs, to deliver broadband connections to the hardest-to-reach premises in the country. The USO is intended to provide a legal right to request a broadband connection of at least 10 Mbps download speed, up to a reasonable cost threshold.

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. 95% of the UK already has access to superfast broadband, and the USO will provide a “digital safety net” for those in the most remote and hardest to reach places.

The government is aiming for the USO to be in place by 2020 at the latest. Responsibility will then fall to Ofcom to implement the USO.

The specification for the USO design includes:

  • A download speed of at least 10Mbps, with quality requirements for upload speeds, responsiveness of connections, and data cap; this could be delivered by a range of fixed line and wireless technologies
  • A per premises cost threshold of £3,400, enabling coverage to around 99.8% of premises. Consumers outside this threshold will be able to get a satellite connection, or would have the option to cover the excess themselves (in the same way the universal service right to a landline telephone works)
  • A requirement for demand aggregation, so that people within an area can combine their per premise cost thresholds, to ensure that as many people who want to get connected, do get connected
  • For it to be funded by industry rather than public funding; and
  • Uniform pricing so that those connected under the USO do not have to pay more for similar services to consumers served commercially.

The government and Ofcom are now working to put in place a number of processes to implement the USO. This includes the running of a process to designate the universal service provider(s) who will be required to offer the service, giving both small and large providers a chance to put their names forward for consideration.

Ofcom will be responsible for establishing an industry fund that will support the delivery of connections made under the USO.

The designated provider will be under a statutory obligation to connect people up to the cost threshold, and to connect them if they are willing to pay excess costs above the threshold.

Digital minister Margot James said, “In the 21st century, accessing the Internet is a necessity not a luxury. We are building a Britain that is fit for the future, and we’re now putting high speed broadband on a similar footing as other essential services like water and phone lines”.

Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said, “Ensuring access to reliable, high speed broadband is one of the most important things we can do to support our rural communities and businesses in Wales”.

Cairns said, “The digital sector has become an integral part of the Welsh economy and the rapid growth of many digital businesses means that reliable and fast access to broadband is vital in all communities in Wales. This new commitment means that no matter where you live in Wales, residents will have the right to at least 10 Mbps”.

“Improving connectivity for homes and businesses is a central pillar of this Government’s efforts to strengthen the Welsh economy, and today’s announcement means that everyone can legally expect a minimum level of service from their providers, wherever they are”, Cairns said.


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