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Design specified for UK's universal service obligation for broadband

The design of the UK's new universal service obligation (USO) for broadband has been specified in law.29 Mar 2018

The UK government said the new USO would "ensure high speed broadband access for the whole of the UK by 2020". The Electronic Communications (Universal Service) (Broadband) Order 2018 comes into force on 23rd April this year.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) said that "only premises who do not have a connection which meets the USO specification, or are unlikely to be connected under publicly funded procurements which meet the minimum specification, will be eligible to be connected" under the initiative, up to a reasonable cost threshold.

Secondary legislation containing the detail of how the USO is designed was laid before the UK parliament on Wednesday after the DCMS earlier published its response to a consultation it held on the plans.

The USO for broadband is made up of several components, the main feature of which is a right for property owners in the UK to have access to broadband services with minimum download speeds of 10Mbps.

"Additional quality parameters" are also mandated, including minimum upload speeds of 1Mbps, restrictions on the sharing of bandwith across customers, a duty to minimise delays in the transmission of data over the broadband networks, and a requirement to allow customers to download at least 100GBs of data every month under the service on offer.

The DCMS said: "Download speed is only one factor which can impact on what a consumer can do online. The additional parameters ensure they can get a service which allows them to engage effectively on a social and business basis and minimises social and economic exclusion."

Industry will be responsible for funding the delivery of the USO for broadband through a "cost-sharing mechanism" to be set up by the UK's telecoms regulator Ofcom. Ofcom has until 28 March 2020 to implement the USO. The regulator is obliged to designate which broadband providers are subject to the USO requirements and establish and administer an industry fund to compensate the 'universal service providers' for "any unfair net cost burden".

The USO for broadband will be able to be delivered using a range of technologies, including fibre to the cabinet, fibre to the home and fixed wireless, as well as mobile broadband solutions.

The USO will not apply where the cost of providing access to a premises would exceed £3,400, however a "demand aggregation" model will apply to "ensure as many people who want to get connected, do get connected", and property owners falling outside the £3,400 threshold would be able to obtain a "satellite connection" or alternatively pay the excess cost themselves to become connected, the DCMS said.

"Uniform pricing" will also apply so that those connected under the USO scheme "do not pay more for their broadband than others pay for comparable services in non-USO areas", it said.

The government said that USO for broadband is likely be updated over time under powers provided for in the Digital Economy Act 2017.

UK 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."