Lord Carter, Communications minister, is expected to introduce a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband, with a requirement to provide services at up to 2Mbps, in his 'Digital Britain' review to be released later this month. The report is also expected to relieve BT of its current USO for providing telephone services to everyone in the country with a plan to share the new obligations amongst mobile phone and other broadband suppliers such as Virgin Media.
This somewhat follows plans in other countries such as France where communication providers are subject to an industry fee that helps to fund service to those in hard to reach areas. Last year Telia-Sonera in Finland was allowed to rip out its copper network in some of the most sparsely populated areas of the country in favour of using mobile coverage.
If the UK takes a similar approach, it could encourage investment in next generation services such as fibre to the home (FTTH) as BT would not be obliged to provide services to those hard to reach areas. Whether this would be good for the country or not is debatable. It could encourage a growth of the digital divide, where those in more urban areas are able to access the Internet at 100Mbps or above, and watch high-definition television using the fibre network whilst the "have nots" are stuck on an ageing 2Meg broadband that has been available for approaching 9 years.