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What is the broadband USO?

The Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband is a UK-wide measure intended as a “safety net” to deliver broadband to those premises that do not have access to a decent and affordable connection.

The Government have defined a decent connection as one that can deliver 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 1 Mbps upload speed (along with other defined quality parameters). Ofcom has defined an affordable connection as one that costs less than £45 per month.

The USO provides a legal right to request a decent broadband connection, up to a cost threshold of £3,400.

BT (and KCOM in Hull) have been designated as the Universal Service Providers responsible for fulfilling requests from eligible consumers.

What are the eligibility criteria?

Residents and businesses are eligible for the USO if:

  • they do not have access to a decent broadband connection (10 Mbps download speed, 1 Mbps upload speed and other specified quality parameters); or
  • if the only service available that can provide the minimum criteria costs more than £45 per month; and
  • the property is not due to be connected to a publicly funded roll-out scheme within 12 months; and
  • the connection will cost no more than £3,400 to build (or the customer has chosen to pay the excess above that amount).

Access to a decent connection means by any technology capable of delivering the standard, including wireless networks such as mobile broadband.

Ofcom estimated in December 2019 that approximately 155,000 premises (0.5% of UK) would potentially be eligible for the USO taking into account fixed-line and wireless connections.

When and how can a request be made?

Consumers and businesses will be able to request connections from 20 March 2020. Requests will be made through BT (or KCOM in Hull).

Once a request is made, there will be standards placed on BT and KCOM for how quickly they must assess and deliver on requests for connections.

What technology will be used?

Any technology capable of delivering the minimum technical USO standards could be considered to deliver connections, including mobile broadband. In practice, most connections under the USO are likely to use full-fibre technology or fibre-to-the-cabinet.

Depending on the technology used to deliver the connection some consumers may receive a higher quality connection than the minimum standards.

Ofcom has published an FAQ page on the USO: Your right to request a decent broadband service: What you need to know (9 October 2019).

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