Universal service obligations (broadband and telephony)

Published: 17 March 2023
Last updated: 17 March 2023

The universal service obligations provide a safety net to ensure that everyone in the UK has the right to request access to a minimum set of communications services at affordable prices. The services that must be provided have been set out by the Government in legislation.

BT and KCOM are the designated broadband and telephony universal service providers in the UK.

Broadband universal service conditions

In March 2018, the Government introduced legislation for a broadband universal service obligation, to give homes and businesses the right to request a decent and affordable broadband connection.

In March 2020, we implemented this legislation through a set of broadband universal service conditions that apply to BT and KCOM. The unofficial consolidated set of these conditions (PDF, 405.0 KB) is available on our website.

We have also published a guide to requesting a broadband universal service connection.

Telephony universal service conditions

The telephony universal service legislation has been in place since 2003 and it sets out a minimum set of services that must be provided to everyone, on request, at an affordable price.

We implemented this legislation through a combination of universal service conditions on BT and KCOM and General Conditions on all providers. Some of the telephony universal conditions are contained in the broadband universal service conditions; the majority are set out in the unofficial consolidated telephony universal service conditions (PDF, 204.8 KB). The conditions include obligations relating to the provision of the following:

Publicly available telephone services which are capable of allowing end-users to make and receive local, national and international telephone calls

See conditions A1-A4 of the broadband universal service conditions, and condition 1 of the telephony universal service conditions.

Special tariff schemes for customers who have difficulty affording telephony services

See condition 2 of the telephony universal service conditions. BT and KCOM are obliged to have at least one special tariff for customers who have difficulty affording telephony services, including those on low incomes or with special needs. Whilst the condition only relates to telephony services, BT and KCOM also voluntarily offer a broadband social tariff.

BT’s social tariffs are BT Basic (a legacy product that is no longer available to new customers) and Home Essentials. KCOM’s social tariff is known as Flex. Other providers also offer broadband social tariffs on a voluntary basis.

Public call boxes to meet the reasonable needs of end-users

See condition 3 of the telephony universal service conditions. In June 2022, we introduced a number of changes to the public call box conditions on BT and KCOM.

We have also published guidance (PDF, 195.0 KB) setting out our expectations of how BT and KCOM should approach compliance with these rules.

There is more information about our rules on public call boxes, including the process for removal, on our website.

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