It is easy to say the UK broadband picture is a disaster but when numerous studies looking at the effect that the digital economy has in the UK suggests otherwise i.e. it is in pretty good health but there is still more to do. Of course for those stuck on glacially slow broadband or with no affordable access to broadband things will feel very different. The Universal Service Obligation announced back in 2015 offers hope that once in place by 2020 everyone will have a legal right to request a 10 Mbps minimum speed broadband connection.
The devil as always is in the detail and this is why the DCMS has started a four week long consultation period for people to digest and respond to its 16 page consultation.
The document makes it clear that existing superfast broadband expansion plans will reduce the number who will need to make use of the USO and also is very aware that sometimes it may be a single property in an urban environment, through to a small hamlet with a handful of homes, i.e. there is no single geographic definition. Currently the superfast roll-out status is sitting at 89.72% of premises with access to a 24 Mbps or faster connection (and if you add alt-nets like Gigaclear, B4RN and Hyperoptic we believe it may even be above 90%), with existing extension contracts in place this should reach 95% by the end of 2017 and if the superfast pilot projects convert into further roll-out and claw back from existing BDUK contracts continues we might see superfast coverage pushing 96 to 97% well before 2020.
We know people will be keen to use the USO to push for more FTTH and Gigabit services but a lot will depend on how precisely the USO is funded and the legal side means that the USO will be technology neutral with a requirement to also be cost efficient, so installing something that may be future proof for 20 to 30 years at a cost several times more than a less capable solution that still meets the USO requirements may prove difficult to justify.
The good news is that the USO will be designed to make use of an escalator so while any USO service has to provide a minimum speed of 10 Mbps initially, if the average speeds continue to increase across the UK then the USO will see its minimum speed raised periodically to ensure the safety net does not fall behind - this is something that has been allowed to happen with the existing USO.
Where the USO becomes more complex is measuring whether a service meets the USO requirements in practice, e.g. if a solution is used that drops to sub 1 Mbps during peak times and delivers 14 Mbps off-peak we believe anyone sensible would say that fails to meet the obligation, but does a service dropping from 12 Mbps to 8 Mbps also fail? Another issue is affordability and the USO will NOT mean a provider can change £1000's for an install fee and we also hope things like usage allowances are also considered, since its not good suddenly having a 10 Mbps broadband connection that lets you watch video online at last for you to use up your allowance in the first evening of every month.
For wondering where the premises are that are likely to be under 10 Mbps, we have a map that updates weekly with postcodes being removed as roll-outs of faster options reach an area . The map comprises of just under 164,000 postcodes which represent around 4.9% of UK premises currently.