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Looking into the Broadband Universal Service Obligation
Thursday 19 March 2015 10:14:19 by Andrew Ferguson

So everyone is celebrating a 5 Mbps Universal Service Obligation, and wondering how BT will deliver it, but we would urge people to think beyond the fixed line solutions, since in the more remote places solutions that require minimal infrastructure may be the only way to meet the obligation at a reasonable price.

The government is committed to ensuring that every single household in the UK has access to the basic broadband needed to live and work in the modern world. So we will look to raise the Universal Service Obligation (USO) – the legal entitlement to a basic service – from dial up speeds to 5Mbps broadband. This commitment to all goes further than any other country in Europe. Once in place, a USO would mean that consumers gain a legal right to request installation of 5Mbps capable services at an affordable price.

The USO as defined by DCMS (our own emphasis on request)

The word request seems very important, i.e. the USO is not something that will fall into your lap and may not be as simple as ordering a broadband service from BT, in fact the USO may apply to a wide variety of providers and if the Government is to encourage further competition it should do, unless the plan is to saddle BT with expensive USO services that have 25 to 30 year payback periods, which can be the case for some telephone lines under that existing USO.

As things stand the USO is something the Government is saying it will look into and has not entered into a legal obligation to provide, plus with a General Election looming which politician can be sure they will be there to follow through on the promises?

Either slightly poor wording has been used or the £10m of spending on pilots for superfast broadband schemes to the last 5% of the UK appear less certain to be expanded now.

The government will review and publish further evidence gathered from the pilots later this year, and will consider the economic and social case for further government action in this area.

Infrastructure report on superfast pilots for final 5%

The pilots themselves are not guaranteed to run for years or decades, funding only exists to run them for a year generally, and it seems as we have said before it is not about the technology but testing the economic benefits and social impact of better broadband in these areas. In short if no-one buys the services and businesses don't report benefits then further investment may not take place and areas be left to fall back on the new USO if it does emerge.

We will act now to help households and businesses in the hardest to reach areas. Starting with premises experiencing the lowest speed broadband, the government will launch a scheme with local bodies across the UK this year to subsidise the costs of installing superfast capable satellite services.

Infrastructure report on satellite services

Satellite looks to be a key part of the broadband solution for the final 5%, well 1% as it seems the Government is aware of the capacity limits for the current satellite transponders pointing at the UK and does not want to enter into the costly provision of satellites themselves. While satellite connections are a great solution for some things, as the web evolves sites are becoming more complex and dynamic in-page data requests with high latency can break or make sites and services perform poorly, even if the satellite connection is delivering the speed it says on the tin.

The Universal Service Commitment is not dead it appears since they are saying everyone will have access to basic broadband by 2016 (i.e. nine months time) which is just enough time for a voucher scheme to give birth and tick the box. The Government will also be looking at the increasing coverage of 4G and improvements to FTTC from Openreach such as G.INP (reduce the speed lost due to interleaving error correction) and vectoring (boost to connection speeds by combating noise from other VDSL2 lines).

The question is we know now what has been promised to be looked at and if broadband is of prime importance what will the opposition parties offer to improve on these options for the those who have missed out on superfast roll-outs to date.

'We agree with the government that broadband is increasingly important to people. That is why we are working with them to extend superfast broadband coverage to 95 per cent of the UK.

The last five per cent will be the most challenging and expensive to reach but technology is improving and it is important that people aren’t left behind.

We are keen to sit down with the government and Ofcom to discuss their proposals for a new broadband USO and how it can best be implemented and paid for.'

BT statement on new USO


Posted by RuralWire over 2 years ago
Evidently, any talk of a fixed-line 2Mbps USC or 5Mbps USO is foolish nonsense. Where is the evidence that the UK Government, BT Openreach, or anyone else for that matter, is firmly committed to and capable of delivering a fixed-line 2Mbps USC or 5Mbps USO? Where are the details? What is the timescale? No more than weasel words courtesy of Her Majesty's Government.
Posted by MCM999 over 2 years ago
Why should BT Openreach be committed to what would be, for them an expensive loss leader. Any USO/USC needs to be paid for either by all broadband users through their ISP charges or by Govt. Remember free lunches are a myth, someone has to pay and why should that be BT's customers when BT is NOT a monopoly in the provision of broadband.
Posted by RuralWire over 2 years ago
On a more positive note, Gigaclear have announced that they plan to bring gigabit broadband to the villages of Cononley and Carleton here in North Yorkshire. Cononley is one of the many villages in North Yorkshire excluded from the superfast broadband roll out. Sometimes, there are ways of bypassing the ultrafast/superfast/USC/USO debate.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
Both Cononley and Carleton seem to be within BT's plans at Skipton and Cross Hills; seemingly the commercial plans, at that.

Gigaclear's plan seems to be piggybacked on doing fibre to a Business Park in/near Skipton, and doesn't look to include any option to push fibre into any of the smaller surrounding settlements.
Posted by RuralWire over 2 years ago

That's interesting. The presentation given to the residents of Cononley by NYnet, BT and LN Communications, back in October 2013, painted an entirely different picture.
Posted by 21again over 2 years ago
> "In short if no-one buys the services and businesses don't report benefits then further investment may not take place and areas be left to fall back on the new USO if it does emerge."

The trouble with the alternative ways of passing BB to the domestic end user, from a monthly cost point of view they can't offer a BB package for a fiver a month as the big mass market ISPs can do over copper wires, or can they?
Posted by RuralWire over 2 years ago

The news item is on the Gigaclear website. There is even a quote from Mr Superfast Broadband himself (Cllr Carl Les) welcoming Gigaclear to the villages of Cononley, Carleton and rural North Yorkshire.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
Gigaclear is free to go where it wants to.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
It was talked about this morning at the Craven area committee, by nynet.

My best feel was that GC will be welcomed with whatever areas fit their business model, but that you shouldn't expect the model to become a panacea. The model wouldn't, for instance, start a blanket coverage of the surrounding smaller communities.

BTW, the two villages sit at the 92nd percentile, size wise, so aren't typical of the final 5%. They're 3x-4x too big. And by latest plans, do seem to be getting a cabinet each.
Posted by RuralWire over 2 years ago

That's my point regarding the USC/USO/Superfast debate relating to rural areas. Whether fixed-line, wireless or satellite. It's horses for courses. The somewhat blinkered approach of "BT Openreach or nothing" taken by County Hall has begun to change and will hopefully continue.
Posted by RuralWire over 2 years ago

Correct me if I am wrong, but BT are contractually obliged to provide a minimum 2Mbps service under the terms of the contracts that they have signed with a number of county councils. Public funding (taxpayers money) has been allocated to pay for BT to do the work. Presumably, your "remember free lunches are a myth" philosophy applies to BT?
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