The broadband universal service obligation (USO) will give people in the UK the right to request a decent and affordable broadband connection. Under the USO, eligible homes and businesses will be able to request a connection, where the cost of building it is no more than £3,400.
For the USO, Government has defined decent broadband as a service that can provide a download speed of 10 Mbit/s, and an upload speed of 1 Mbit/s upload. There are other technical features that ensure a quality service.
Ofcom is implementing the broadband USO, by designating the universal service providers who must connect customers, and by setting the rules those providers must follow.
Legislation for the USO was brought in by the Government at the end of March 2018, and customers will be able to request a broadband USO connection directly from the designated universal service providers – BT and KCOM – from March 2020.
We are working to implement the USO as quickly as possible, but we needed time to put an appropriate process in place and to then to consult with the public on who should deliver USO connections, and the rules they must follow.
We also expect to consult on funding arrangements, including designing an industry fund to compensate the providers for any unfair costs, identifying who should contribute to the fund, and how it should be run.
The Government’s initial commitment was for the USO to be in place from March 2020, so we are on track to deliver to this time frame.
Homes and businesses will only be eligible to receive a USO connection if they currently cannot receive an affordable service with download speeds of at least 10 Mbit/s and upload speeds of 1 Mbit/s from any existing networks, if they are not due to receive such a service from a publicly-funded scheme in the year following their request, and the cost of connection is not more than £3,400.
A consumer or business will only have to contribute to the cost of a connection if it exceeds a threshold of £3,400. Above that level, properties can still be connected if they pay the excess costs or do some of the work themselves to help bring costs down.
There is also the option of using alternative technology, such as commercially available satellite outside the USO scheme, or keeping their existing service that delivers a lower speed.
To help as many USO connections as possible fall below the £3,400 threshold, the USO providers are required to assume and aggregate the level of local demand. This potentially brings more connections under the reasonable cost threshold by sharing the costs.
The Government set these minimum speeds for the USO when it introduced legislation in March 2018.
Ofcom’s research shows 10Mbit/s is the speed currently needed to meet an average household’s digital needs. This allows multiple users to use the internet at the same time, including web browsing, video streaming, video calling and gaming. However, we are aware these minimum speeds will need to increase over time.
Ofcom will review aspects such as these speeds when 75% of UK premises have taken up superfast broadband.
Consumers will be able to make requests for connections from March 2020. Once a consumer or business requests a connection, the Universal Service Provider will have up to 30 days to confirm if their request meets a set of eligibility criteria, including whether the estimated cost of that connection falls under the £3,400 cost threshold. If it meets the eligibility criteria and is estimated to cost less than £3,400, the connection can start to be delivered straight away. If the cost is estimated to be over the threshold, and the customer would still like to proceed, the Universal Service Provider will carry out a full survey and provide a detailed quotation to the customer within 60 days. If the customer decides not to pay the excess costs, they can consider commercially available satellite broadband (outside the USO scheme).
The actual speed provided to a customer will vary throughout the day depending on factors like the number of people going online at busy times. Under the USO, other minimum requirements have been set, to improve consumer experience and reliability of connections.
Other factors, such as the quality of wiring in buildings, can also affect the service experienced by users. However, these factors are often outside the control of broadband firms. Ofcom’s mobile and broadband checker app is one tool that could help people and businesses who may be affected by such factors.