11 November 2015

Government proposes Universal Service Obligation in relation to broadband

On 7 November 2015, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that the government intends to introduce a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband providers.  The USO would operate in the same way as USOs for other basic services such as water supply, electricity and postal service.  The USO provides that every person would be legally entitled to request a broadband connection of 10 Mbps or faster.  The government’s intention is to provide a “safety net” for all households and businesses, to ensure that they are able to do business online, as well as access key basic services or stream live television.

A broadband USO was first proposed in the government's March 2015 budget, where minimum connection speeds of 5 Mbps were mooted.  However, data produced by Ofcom on the typical data needs of a family or small business has led the government to increase the proposed minimum connection speed to 10 Mbps.  This minimum would likely increase over time as technology and demand evolve.

Exactly how the USO would operate remains uncertain.  A consultation is planned for early 2016, which should clarify how the proposals will be achieved and explain how their roll out will affect broadband providers.

The government also announced measures to foster transparency around broadband service.  Later this year, Ofcom will release a mobile app allowing consumers to “check if their home Wi-Fi is working as it should be”.  Next year, Ofcom plans to publish detailed address-level mobile and broadband speed data to inform people who may be moving home or starting a business of the connection speed in their new location.

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