Documents to download


Plans to introduce a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) were first announced by the Government in November 2015.

A consultation on the process the Government intended to follow to deliver a broadband USO ran from March-April 2016.[1]

In the Queen’s Speech on 18 May 2016 the Government announced its intention to legislate for a broadband USO in the Digital Economy Bill. The Bill has progressed through the Commons and received its Second reading in the Lords on 13 December 2016.

In October 2016, the Government explained the broadband USO as follows:

The USO gives people a legal right to an affordable, fast broadband connection on demand from a designated Universal Service Provider, at a minimum speed of 10 Mbps, no matter where they live or work, up to a reasonable cost threshold.[2]

The Government intends for the USO to be in place by 2020 at the latest.[3]

Developing the details of a Universal Service Obligation

The Digital Economy Bill contains enabling powers for a USO to be specified in secondary legislation.

The Government has commissioned Ofcom to provide technical analysis and recommendations about the design of the USO, including costs, technologies and funding. Ofcom ran a call for inputs between April-June 2016 inviting views from stakeholders and a summary of responses was published which summarised the responses into two broad visions:

  • A vision for a more highly specified universal service for all, with the cost of such interventions a more secondary consideration; or
  • A belief that people and businesses need a safety net to complement existing public and private sector-led broadband deployments.[4]

Ofcom intends to produce a report by the end of 2016, following which the Government will develop draft secondary legislation setting out the scope, including specific requirements and guidance for the design of the USO. The Government’s intention is to consult of the draft legislation, which will be accompanied by a regulatory impact assessment. Once the secondary legislation is in place, Ofcom will then carry out work on the detailed design of the USO and on its regulatory implementation.[5] 

The USO will have to be designed to conform to the requirements of the EU Universal Service Directive (2002/22/EC).

Further resources

The following resources provide detailed background and analysis of relevance to this debate:

[1]     Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Consultation outcome Broadband Universal Service Obligation, 23 March 2016

[2]     Department for Culture, Media and Sport, A new broadband Universal Service Obligation Statement of Intent, 11 October 2016

[3]     Ibid.

[4]     Ofcom, Designing the broadband universal service obligation, Summary of responses to the call for inputs, 16 August 2016

[5]     DCMS, Broadband USO consultation, summary of responses and Government response, 17 May 2016

Documents to download

Related posts