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More calls for broadband Universal Service Obligation
Monday 24 September 2012 08:31:41 by Andrew Ferguson

The UK telecoms regulator Ofcom and the UK Government has consistently resisted implementing some form of Universal Service Obligation for broadband, instead relying on a weaker Universal Service Commitment of 2 Mbps to be implemented by 2015. The Country Land & Business Association has published a statement indicating its view on this and other broadband policies.

"The CLA has been instrumental in lobbying the infrastructure providers to offer a basic broadband service for all. It has taken the lead in lobbying government to provide public funds for the roll-out of a superfast broadband network as well as pushing for a Universal Service Obligation (USO) to ensure that all in rural areas have access to a minimum speed of two megabits per second (Mbps).

However, the Government’s strategy is not making the inroads it needs to meet its objective of ensuring that the UK has the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. The process appears slow, cumbersome and excessively mired in red tape.

In addition, there appears to be no clear direction as to how the various broadband technologies are to be deployed. Should there be a sole reliance on fibre optic or is there room for a mixture of technologies, a patchwork so to speak, which can be deployed to meet differing circumstances and different locations?"

Extract from CLA Statement on Broadband Fit for Rural Growth

Four key areas are addressed by the statement, with these being:

  1. Universal Coverage: The CLA would like a USO framework to be in place by 2015
  2. Competition within the bidding process: CLA would like to see penalties for failing to meet time and coverage requirements in broadband rollout contracts.
  3. Strategic alliances: The CLA would like various like-minded trade associations to work together, to bring broadband to all.
  4. The Future Needs of Rural Areas: The CLA takes the line that current frameworks are not working for the most rural parts of the UK.

The issue of a Universal Service Obligation is raised every few months, and has been dismissed just as many times. The difficulty facing those in power to force a USO on the market, is how to ensure that a USO does not actually distort the market, while at the same time ensuring the public and business do not have a complicated situation, where one district has an Openreach USO, another a Fujitsu one and yet another a USO via a fixed wireless provider.

The concept of piggy backing onto the fibre networks that serve council premises and schools is explored, and while this offers some potential, the most rural parts of the UK have very little in the way of public infrastructure, with long drives or bus trips to the nearest school or council office. It is this final 2 or 3% where the desire for competition versus delivery of service are often conflicting interests.

Interestingly the CLA does not have a firm commitment to fibre being needed in rural areas, suggesting that perhaps a more patchwork model of connectivity utilising fixed wireless and satellite services seems to be favoured. The question really is how many of those businesses in broadband not-spots have actually considered the widely available satellite solutions.

The biggest issue and is rarely explored by those calling for different frameworks, is how different these actually would be once implemented. For example if contracts under a new framework carried punitive penalties for failing to meet a delivery target, the immediate effect would be shrink the potential number of bidders down to one or two, in a similar fashion to how the need to invest millions of pounds per local authority area under the existing BDUK framework. There is scope for learning from the problems with the BDUK framework, and ensuring they are not repeated on a small scale with the RCBF money, and with over two thirds of our visitors supporting calls for an investigation into the lack of competition in the BDUK process there seems to be support for this.

The doubts in the BDUK processes are not likely to change the Governments position, and even if it did, there would be another year or more of debate and consultation to determine the next framework, unless a tyrannical approach was taken. With the way the BDUK projects operate, they do not preclude competing commercial operators rolling out a service to an area, or a community building its own service.


Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
No mention of the F word - funding. Fund a universal service obligation with a 50p/month levy on cable, mobile, xDSL, fibre broadband and have suppliers bid to infill validated notspots (rather than people using speedtests on crap ISPs or with dodgy home wiring).
Posted by mervl over 4 years ago
What has the CLA (L = landowners?) done as a "like minded trade association" (presumably) to ensure that land compensation (i.e. quantum and delay) is not an impediment to rural roll-outs? It seems to me that as consumers are only prepared to pay £x (not more than on commercial rollouts), then less the technical costs of provision and the providers required return if broadband is as essential as they say, the landowner can achieve only the residual sum and if that is nominal, then so be it. They'd then have some credibility, rather than driving projects into the hands of BT.
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
So anyone providing a service to remote areas risks penalties if they don't meat the obligation and gets no help to do so.

Simple answer: Don't bother to provide /any/ service to those areas.
Posted by drteeth over 4 years ago
There are certain downsides to living in rural areas which must have been known by those choosing to do so. Rubbish broadband is one of them. I don't have any sympathy and do not see why I should have to fund somebody else's lifestyle.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
A guy I knew went to Australia working on a scheme where for every outlying property he connected he got paid $x when the service was up and running. Would that approach help ? Could create a market of supply solutions, but there's still the funding question.
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
Update: In addition to noticing I mis-spelt 'meat' I'd like to point out that I'm not advocating we give up on rural provision. Merely that from a business sense this idea just seems to make rural provision even less attractive to businesses.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 4 years ago
"Satellite", not ideal, however its a fair compromise. @drteeth your comment is lost on me, you will find just your basic needs living in urban areas is supported by rural communities.
Posted by drteeth over 4 years ago
@ NilSatisOptimum
Medical care? Mains gas? Sewage? A mate has none of these in his village.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 4 years ago
@ drteeth "A mate" thats what I thought.
Posted by csimon over 4 years ago
@drteeth: What a stupud statement to make, re living in rural areas. Some people don't have a choice, some people made the choice a long time before broadband, and rubbish broadband also happens in urban/populated areas. Next time you have a problem with services in your area (council, street lighting etc), don't bother complaining, just move to somewhere that doesn't have those problems.
Posted by PhilCoates over 4 years ago

' I don't have any sympathy and do not see why I should have to fund somebody else's lifestyle.'

So us rural dwellers should withold the parts of our taxes that support the maintainence of the road outside your house, or your sewers or bin men because we don't want to support your lifestyle choice?

Hey lets all leave the countryside and move to the city shall we? Many do not choose to live in the countryside but do so because of work and other responsibilities.

I think you are mistaking us for people with second homes.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 4 years ago
Not to mention, farming, water, growing reliance electricity (windfarms) and gas (shail) and leisure activities etc all above enjoyed by city and urban dwellers. "we are all in together" always made me laugh more like " I'm alright Jack".
Posted by fibrebunny over 4 years ago
Wind farms and shale gas have nothing to do with broadband, next you'll be telling us the sun only comes out as rural people do a special dance in the fields after midnight.

As ever the issue is one of cost, idealism and wishful are of no use to anyone. Furthermore, there is no support for a new tax or levy. So instead of spouting the usual nonsense, the Country land and business assoc, would do better to research costings and how it might be funded.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 4 years ago
@fibrebunny, you are most defiently wrong apart from the special dance, we are always up for midnight shinanigans, until we have superfast broadband.
Posted by themanstan over 4 years ago
Nothing wrong with USO for rural, so long as it's charged in the same way as other public utilities (leccy, gas and water)... i.e. all costs above £3.5k are borne by the customers.
Posted by fibrebunny over 4 years ago

So what do wind farms have to do with broadband then? Are they only built in areas with FTTC? Thought not!

With all the late night antics you're probably far too tired for broadband anyway.
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
@Nil: Feel free to withhold your taxes if you want. There's not many of you so it probably wouldn't have much impact. You seem to be labouring under the impression that rural communities are keeping the country afloat.

That's not true. At best you break even but more likely you are a net financial loss. It's something most sensible urbanites are willing to pay for but if you think that you can hold us to ransom financially you need to think again.
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
(cont'd) the idea that urbanites somehow 'owe you better broadband' just doesn't apply (except perhaps in a vague moral 'big society' sense). I bet most if not all M1 exchanges and their lines are loss makers. As a townie I don't mind helping you out a little but I get very suspicious when people suggest using my money to bring you up to my standard. That kind of equality doesn't come cheap and seems to be going too far.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
If you live out in the countryside you have to accept there will be pros and cons.

Same as in the city.

Cities, are noisy, congested and polluted to name just a few cons but have better facilities.

Countryside has less facilities but less congestion, noise and pollution.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago

I used to live and still spend alot of time down in cornwall but I made a choice to live in a city as I wanted to work in IT and there were not many jobs going down near me in Cornwall.

No one forcing anyone to live in the countryside, people are making a choice and they should learn to live with it.

I had the same choice when I moved jobs, do I move nearer work to cut down my commute but need to take taxi or multiple buses if I want to have a few drinks or a meal with friends. I choose to stay in the heart of the city.

Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
People need to be happy with the choice they made if internet is such an important thing then move. When I go back to the family house I can go weeks without the internet (Not even on a mobile) and guess what the world does not end.

If people want to get connected there should be small amount of help but the majority should come from the business and community.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago

Using the same logic that suggest there should be a 50p connection tax to fund the final third also then suggest there should be a congestion tax on all cars, bikes (and tractors) to improve public transport in the city to cut down on congestion and pollution.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
Also for those of you who think that it cost the council/ service provider less if you live out in the countryside to provide you with roads, cables (phone and electric), mobile coverage, refuse, water ect wake up and get real, have you never hear economics of scale. Only my street there are 54 houses in 300-400 metres, down in cornwall at my family house the next next house is over twice as far away.

It is alot easier and requires less resources to provided service when the population densely pact
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
@damien: Exactly. Humanity worked that out over 8,000 years ago and it's as true today as it was back then. The higher the population concentration the lower the costs and vice versa.
Posted by Dixinormous over 4 years ago
I'm fine with a USO on condition it carries the same limitations as the current one on telephony.

Satellite broadband will be the only option for some, sadly.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
@AndrueC - Thanks :)

Also find it amusing when people say they have no choice on where they live. No one holding them hostage, they don't need a visa to move. They are choosing to live where they are. If its their job limiting them they can either change jobs or commute further.

Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
I was offered a nice job in London, better pay but I turned it down because I enjoy my water sports and Plymouth great for wind surfing ect. THat was my choice if people want internet perhaps they should make the same choice I made when I decided that my enjoyment outside work was more important that my work life.
Posted by csimon over 4 years ago
OK - those who think that poor broadband in rural areas is the fault of the people who "choose" to live there, I could actually move 3 miles down the road, still in a rural ara, in fact probably more isolated than where I am now, and actually get better broadband. Broadband availability is nothing to do with how isolated or rural/urban you are, it depends completely on DISTANCE FROM THE EXCHANGE and QUALITY OF THE LINE (i.e. the speed that you get) and the NUMBER OF PEOPLE ON THE EXCHANGE (i.e. the likelihood that your exchange will get latest technology).
Posted by csimon over 4 years ago
[cont 1] If your exchange is in the middle of nowhere and away from centres of population (as mine is to save money by not having individual exchanges for individual communities) the reverse happens - the built-up areas get slow speeds and the isolated areas get high speeds. These are the criteria and it can happen in rural AND urban areas. People who live in urban areas with great broadband are so self-righteous and I'm-all-right-Jack saying it's our choice to live in a house that's served by an exchange that doesn't have as many households on it as theirs does.
Posted by csimon over 4 years ago
[cont 2] There is nothing actually "difficult" about connecting rural communities. We have roads, ducting, telephone poles, electricity, water, gas etc just like everywhere else. Why do people (esp urban dwellers) think it's so much more "difficult", as though we're not civilised and don't have roads, and as though broadband is more difficult to distribute than any other service?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
@csimon Difficult in terms of metres of fibre/ducting/trenching.

Also in some areas getting permission for roadworks on a small but important link road can be difficult.

Add to this that for commercial roll-outs you may be looking at 30 year or never on ROI, rather than five to ten years.
Posted by camieabz over 4 years ago

"There are certain downsides to living in rural areas which must have been known by those choosing to do so. Rubbish broadband is one of them. I don't have any sympathy and do not see why I should have to fund somebody else's lifestyle. "

Since many rural folk pay top dollar for their (inferior) BB versus most city dwellers, I think you should think before you type such twaddle.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
@camieabz only 7% of the UK does not have access to the retail and wholesale TalkTalk networks. So thats a good half of what is considered rural, almost two thirds depending on how you define rural.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
@camieabz you may be paying the same for us for slower speed but you also paying the same as use yet using more poles, cables, and a higher risk of faults or problems between u and the exchange

Think it kinda evens it self out

The only real problem connecting people is the cost, can the outlay be covered and profit made. There should be a small amount of help on offer, but majority has to come from business that will sell the system and the community. I tried getting community powered internet down in cornwall but not enough people were interested.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago

If large amounts of UK money is to be spent on providing internet to place were it fininal not possible otherwise then equally its only fair if the live of people in cities are improved, and money is spent to reduce pollution and congestion. When I lived in cornwall I accepted that there was not enough interest to provide fast internet
Posted by camieabz over 4 years ago

I don't count myself. I'm on market 2, getting decent (12 Meg) speeds. However, my first thought isn't to whinge about someone on a more rural connection being less deserving in a situation where we want universal coverage.
Posted by csimon over 4 years ago
[Like] LOL!
Posted by jtthedevil over 4 years ago
To those who say 'Country dwellers should move'. Surely BT should stop the roll out of FTTC using that logic. Anyone who wants faster broadband can simply move to a house closer to the exchange for faster speeds.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
@camieabz I used to live in the middle of no where, we did not even get 1/2meg bb and mobile coverage is a joke, to get a signal need to get in a boat lol(not kidding) I accepted that when I was living their, I would love fast internet there and due to EU think things will ahve imrpoved greatly. But I understood the situation but did not think I had a right for goverment to spend huge amount of internet to get high speed access.
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
(cont) I agree there should be a small amount of money from the goverment to help but most should come from the community/council and from (might as well say it as no one else really in the running) BT.

If there is huge unemployment in the area and they hope that brining fast internet in will cause high tech firms move in then that differnt kettle of fish

Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
(cont) but it it purley to give houses faster internet connection then no.

Only way i think that would be fair is that 50p tax went into a local fund. i.e. 5 years down the line all the houses in the city might get upgraded to fttp or fttc above 100meg sooner as there would be "war fund" to encorage it to be provided,
Posted by damien001 over 4 years ago
@jtthedevil would not get your above 20/24meg fttc is 80meg big differnce
Posted by AspieMum over 4 years ago
I hope they do make sure everyone can get at least 2MBs broadband and they don't assume we can get 3 to 5MBs broadband just because everyone in our village can get those speeds except those on our estate. Not sure BT wired this estate up right when it was built 7 to 10 years ago.
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