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Help shape the 10 Mbps Universal Service Obligation
Wednesday 23 March 2016 14:45:23 by Andrew Ferguson

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.

Comments

Posted by Blackmamba 9 months ago
Hi Broodband Watchers.
At last Andrews Staff are looking at the post codes 164 k that are under 10 meg average in the last 6 months so it is up to the customers and ISP,s to record if possible to give a better and more accurate overview of the UK broadband network failures.
Posted by godsell4 9 months ago
Cookies need to be enabled to allow the image/map to work properly.
Posted by RuralWire 9 months ago
"We believe that, for those premises that will not have been reached by commercial investment or by the Government’s interventions by the end of the current planned programmes, the time has come for a demand-led approach." In other words, a 10Mbps USO and a broadband investment fund for the alternative networks in exchange for putting a publicly funded Phase 3 to one side.
Posted by themanstan 9 months ago
In other words we need bright ideas to solve the debacle created by our consumer pricing based focus of regulating the market...
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
The main problem is apathy. The majority of the remaining postcodes could get the 10Mbps with just a little thought and not much investment. Simply by promoting more Fixed Wireless schemes and extending 4G coverage we could provide a short and even long term fix for many of these postcodes, including mine.
Posted by MCM999 9 months ago
The map excludes 2 postcodes in Lambeth SW9 where due to all having EO lines getting 6-8Mbps depends on the wind being from the north. How many other postcodes are also missing? The map does however include postcodes in Vauxhall such as St George's Wharf where FTTP is available,
Posted by Northwind 9 months ago
So broadband is so important that the Government want to introduce a USO, but it's still considered a luxury so it attracts 17.5% VAT?

Knock that down to the same 5% as fuel and electricity and I'll start to show interest.
Posted by TheEulerID 9 months ago
@Northwind

Where is this myth that only luxuries are charged VAT at 20%? Do you consider clothes a luxury? Or washing powder, or dishcloths, or furniture, or telephone calls or any number of things we can't do with out?

Just because the availability of something might be considered essential doesn't mean it automatically deserves preferential tax treatment.
Posted by TheEulerID 9 months ago
nb. the standard rate of VAT rate in this country is 20%, not 17.5%, and has been for about 5 years.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
@MCM999 St Georges Wharf if you toggle the altnet layer on you will see we know about Hyperoptic in that location.

As for Lambeth SW9 which actual exchange? Or even better the postcodes so can look at the detail, otherwise its a manual sweep of area and may miss a little bit of detail. Furthest on Vauxhall I can see is in a 11 to 14 Mbps range.
Posted by mklinger 9 months ago
Have you seen the price of satellite and fixed wireless ? it is considerably more than for those in a competitive area or where there is superfast.Whilst they be suitable for isolated areas , they shouldn't be used for exchange only lines that are within distance of a cabinet or exchange. Bt should fix the problem. or Ofcom should reduce the line rental if BT cannot offer a full service.
Posted by TheEulerID 9 months ago
@mklinger

As there is no OR premium for carrying BB, then it's difficult to see any legal basis for that. There is not part of the Ofcom regulated price that pays for any uplift. Possibly if there was some sort of BB premium that could be reinvested for that purpose, you might have a point, but MPF/WLR regulated prices are cost orientated.
Posted by TheEulerID 9 months ago
nb. if MPF/WLR pricing was regulated according to BB carrying capacity, then it would provide revenue/incentive, but it would mean having differential wholesale prices, and some existing lines would cost more.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@mklinger
I certainly agree that BT should transfer exchange only lines to a cabinet as part of their solution to giving everyone the USC. To be fair they do seem to be actively doing this in many areas.
I don't however regard Satellite as being part of the solution, the latency and low upload should disqualify it from the equation.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
Those of us that do live beyond the reach of superfast broadband in rural areas must accept the fact that we will probably have to pay more for the service if we use Fixed Wireless or 4G.
Posted by ian72 9 months ago
For those that don't want the telephony part of a phone line fixed wireless can actually be competitive compared to the cost of broadband+line rental.
Posted by MCM999 9 months ago
@Andrew SW9 6UW and SW9 6UN, adjacent locations, 75 properties, all EO lines on the Vauxhall exchange in Kennington. We now have a privately funded AIO cab WRVAUX54 in place but Lambeth are preventing BT from completing their work.
Posted by welshwarrior 9 months ago
Am I the only one that believes 10Mbps is now starting to sound a little low?
Posted by TheEulerID 9 months ago
@welshwarrior

It's meant to be a speed that covers essential requirements. 10mbps is enough for video conferencing, home working, two or three video streams. I don't think multiple HD and 4K are essentials warranting subsidy.
Posted by godsell4 9 months ago
Yep a 10/5 connection will be good enough for a few years yet to do *essential* things.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
There is a difference between "essential" and being digitally impoverished compared to the rest. At 10Mpbs it is already difficult/impossible to download some software and games upgrades, satnav updates etc as developers have taken advantage of higher average download speeds. None of these may be essential but they do create a digital divide

So I think the USO should follow the definition of relative poverty and be half the national median speed. The 2Mbps USC was about that when it was proposed in 2009, and 10Mbps is about that now, but will be a long way short by 2020.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
One thing that hasn't been mentioned for a while is the effect that withdrawing ADSL would have on broadband speeds. This would deliver the 10 Mbps and more to most customers directly.

BT have said that they could deliver higher speeds on their FTTC network without ADSL.
Posted by jumpmum 9 months ago
Andrew

CF14 7XZ is an Industrial estate in North Cardiff. ( part of which is the BT site which has had a lot more than 2Mb for over 20 years1). The rest of the units have Private circuits. If the post code includes the blob to the left of Velindre Hospital that is part of the hospital complex. Do you include these as sub 2Mb even though the site is served by the hospital comms?
Posted by jumpmum 9 months ago
Likewise the Port of Cardiff is well served by fibre ( just not BB) only bit that may not have is the Doctor who experience but I expect them to have PCircuits too. Likewise St Davids hotel (and Carpark!)do you expect these to all have BB on the checkers?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
On CF14 7XZ served by a cabinet that is not VDSL2 enabled, hence low speed. Leased lines may be available, but then they are available anywhere you want to spend money.
Posted by CarlThomas 9 months ago
@gerarda it's difficult/impossible to download some software/games updates at 10Mbps?

I think you mean it takes longer. Suggesting it's difficult/impossible goes beyond hyperbole.

There are a few 'digital divides' and will be for the foreseeable future. No-one being 'digitally impoverished' sounds great, are you going to pick up the tab?
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
10Mbps is supposed to be adequate for household use. Yes you could download by 38 Gig satnav upgrade in 9 hours providing a)no one else wants to do anything else and b) it doesn't keep timing out.

In terms of picking up the tab several hundred million has already been wasted offering superfast to people who don't want it.
Posted by CarlThomas 9 months ago
If transfers are timing out bandwidth is the least of the concerns.

Good to know you consider BDUK a waste. Very much doubt the people who have seen better services due to the programme agree. Am sure the moment it delivers to your area it'll become more worthwhile.
Posted by jumpmum 9 months ago
Andrew
On CF14 7XZ there are only (Large) Businesses in the industrial park all with existing leased lines, are you expecting a cab serving these situations to also be enabled for VDSL2?

This is not an estate full of little units. Each Factory has its own entrance usually gated. The other side is the River with the only building being a new Hydro-electric plant. ( Take a google walk).
Posted by TheEulerID 9 months ago
@gerarda

I downloaded an (admittedly a UL/Ireland only) complete map update on a 6-7mbps per line, and whilst it took perhaps 45 mins, it wasn't exactly a great problem.

In any event, I don't think 38GB satnav downloads (which really ought to be restartable) are essential services. It comes down to the big question. Who pays for it? Somebody has to.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@TheEulerID
I agree that 10Mbps is ok for most people at the moment but it is not future proofed.
Solutions found now for the final 5% should be seen as a testing ground for the future. In other words while G.fast is an urban solution it would be extremely expensive and involve another BDUK roll out for national coverage. FTTC is not future proofed and as the USC increases more and more people will need the alternative solutions that could be developed now for the final 5%.
Posted by CarlThomas 9 months ago
What solutions did you have in mind that would be future proofed, appropriate yet cheap enough that they wouldn't need taxpayer subsidy?

I reckon the entire industry would like to know. Would be useful across all areas.
Posted by DrMikeHuntHurtz 9 months ago
Anything the government does will fall short of the free market alternative.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@CarlThomas
Fixed Wireless is the obvious one.
I would like to see integrated networks based, for example, in a small town with fibre in the built up areas surrounded by Fixed Wireless in the more rural areas.
Posted by RuralWire 9 months ago
@CarlThomas - BT Group put forward the outline of a proposal for delivering a USO without any public funding to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee earlier this year. Surely, "the industry" is fully aware of what has been put on the table by BT Group?
Posted by RuralWire 9 months ago
@DrMikeHuntHurtz - So what is currently on offer from all the players in the free market?
Posted by CarlThomas 9 months ago
Outlines don't really cut it though and the key factors in my question were future proofing and being fit for purpose, alongside affordability.

I can easily think of solutions that tick 2 boxed. Not so much all 3.
Posted by RuralWire 9 months ago
@CarlThomas - The outline proposal put forward by BT Group to the CMS Committee covers the points that you have raised.
Posted by CarlThomas 8 months ago
I'll check it out again. I rather switched off part way through.
Posted by chilting 8 months ago
@RuralWire
Do BT plan to use Satellite as part of their solution to get the 10Mbps?
Posted by RuralWire 8 months ago
@CarlThomas - The outline of the offer is included in the supplementary written evidence from BT Group, dated January 2016, which was published on 9 February 2016. The outline is under "Q6: Delivering a USO".

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/culture-media-and-sport-committee/establishing-worldclass-connectivity-throughout-the-uk/written/29397.html
Posted by RuralWire 8 months ago
@Chilting - The "without any public funding" offer put forward by BT Group was for approximately 99% fixed or wireless and approximately 1% satellite.
Posted by DrMikeHuntHurtz 8 months ago
@RuralWire

We don't have a free market? So nothing?
Posted by michael_s_perry 8 months ago
Many rural hamlets will not get even 10 Mbps unless there is an absolute requirement for them to be supplied. Where I used to live in a very small hamlet we could not get even 2 Mbps - even though BT said we should get 3.5-4 Mbps, they could never get it above 2 Mbps. Solution is simple - use the poles for FTTC. There is a good electricity supply on a pole that can power the cabinet - but BT don't want to do it!
Posted by dfqls 8 months ago
@gerarda:- despite a 50% boost raising my download speed to ~ 3Mbps, the relatively recent advent of multiple video adverts means many sites have become unusable because the volume of advertising overwhelms the line capacity. A 10 Mbps baseline is probably already too low, and advert designers seem always to assume superfast capacity on every connection.
Posted by DrMikeHuntHurtz 8 months ago
@michael_s_perry

Problem is the government won't let them do a straight replacement like BT offered to do in the 90s.
Posted by CarlThomas 8 months ago
Thanks Ruralwire. That is the solution I would expect but does it pass the 'future-proof' test? When someone says that, not my words I might add, they are usually using it as code for FTTP.
Posted by godsell4 8 months ago
So I read the document the same way as RuralWire, so it looks like Phase3 has been killed off in favour of 'demand-led' installation of superfast without public money being spent, at least a'la BDUK style. So is it going to be the LA making the introductions and assisting with the tenders or something else. It now looks like the Alt-Nets are also in limbo again, until OFCOM announce the actual details of the USO at sometime in 2020 (maybe 2018 at the earliest). Was the change signposted and I had missed it?
Posted by chilting 8 months ago
@godsell4
Actually I think that the local authorities are the best placed to promote alternative schemes. The experience they have built up during the BDUK process is invaluable. Local solutions for local problems are always better.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 8 months ago
@chilting There is a massive variation in how the local authorities behave with regards to broadband, and some have retreated from public involvement after the anti reaction to their efforts on social media.

Posted by Blackmamba 8 months ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
I would think that the end users are starting to look at the post codes that are recording (average) under 10 meg with the local council so that they can use the clawback money to the best effect in their area. It would be helpfull if Andrews staff could record total post codes per council area that are under 10 meg either running or each month.
Posted by RuralWire 8 months ago
@CarlThomas - Point taken in terms of future-proof sometimes being interpreted as meaning FTTP. According to the OED future-proof means "unlikely to become obsolete". Setting aside satellite for the final 1% (or less), to my mind, taking a fixed-line and fixed-wireless approach to delivering a USO to 99% (or more) is unlikely become obsolete.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 8 months ago
@blackmamba We already do hence the plethora of figures when you look up individual councils at https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local

If councils want the exact data they are free to pay for it, to cover our work in tracking everything.
Posted by WWWombat 8 months ago
@godsell4
If you are unhappy that the USO appears to signal the killing off of phase 3, why not respond to the consultation and say so?
Posted by chilting 8 months ago
BT are clearly not in a position to deliver phase 3 without a massive amount of public cash for FTTP. The proposal by BT to commit to offering the 10Mbps USO while welcome is not future proof. The altnets are reluctant to join in with the BDUK process and many would be unable to process the red tape. The altnets are able to deliver the objectives of phase 3 commercially in many areas?
Posted by RuralWire 8 months ago
@Chilting - The subject of the consultation is a proposed broadband USO, not a proposed extension of superfast/ultrafast broadband coverage beyond 95%. A USO is about functional internet access. That's it. Just plain, old, boring functional internet access.
Posted by chilting 8 months ago
@RuralWire
Yes, that is the problem.
To underline the point the final 5% are not being offered superfast broadband by BDUK or BT - just the USO of 10Mpbs without any future proofing.
Posted by Northwind 8 months ago
To TheEulerID,

> Where is this myth that only luxuries are charged VAT at 20%?

Most of the items that attract the top rate are non-essentials. For example, by buying second-hand clothes you are only subject to 0% rating.

Telephone calls differ from broadband in that the Government isn't moving the primary interaction for services to telephone-based platforms, but to the Internet. And then tax you 20% for the 'right' to access those services.


Posted by gerarda 8 months ago
@Northwind - I think your knowledge of the VAT system is very confused. Having said that you may have a case for considering communicating with government should be VAT free, but it never has been for telephoning them so I cannot see it being so for the internet.
Posted by RuralWire 8 months ago
@Chilting - It's not BDUK, BT Group or the alternative networks that have published a consultation paper on a proposed broadband USO, it's the Government. It's the Government that have made their position clear in regard to broadband for the final 5% by stating that "we do not believe that an additional broadband roll-out programme at this time is proportionate or would represent value for money" as "the time has come for a demand-led approach". Superfast/ultrafast/hyperfast broadband for the final 5%, but only where there is sufficient demand.
Posted by chilting 8 months ago
@RuralWire
This is another headline then -
"Government pulls the plug on superfast broadband for the final 5%"
Maybe rather at odds with what their MP's are trying to achieve.
The trouble is that in a few years time as urban areas get G.fast the rest of us will be back to square one.
Posted by RuralWire 8 months ago
@Chilting - The Phase 3 Market Test Pilots are ongoing. AB Internet - Fixed wireless - Monmouthshire. Forecast premises passed by the pilot 94% of the intervention area. Public subsidy per premises passed £370.75. Cost per premises passed (intervention area) £397.59. Airwave - Fixed wireless - Eskdale and West Witton, North Yorkshire. Forecast premises passed by the pilot 72% of the intervention area. Public subsidy per premises passed £3,421. Cost per premises passed (intervention area) £5,979. One is proportionate and value for money, the other is not (personal opinion).
Posted by chilting 8 months ago
@RuralWire
Fixed Wireless is certainly the way forward. We are looking forward to a new provider, Blaze Wireless, launching their service in the Arun Valley, West Sussex but we are still waiting for the legal process is complete.
Posted by RuralWire 8 months ago
@Chilting - Did you know that BDUK has been extending the Universal Service Commitment voucher scheme, originally intended for satellite broadband, to include fixed wireless suppliers? Juice Broadband, Quickline and Wessex Internet to-date.
Posted by chilting 8 months ago
@RuralWire
Yes, that is a good common sense decision. Hopefully West Sussex CC will follow suit for Blaze and Kijoma, they are very receptive and proactive.
Posted by WWWombat 8 months ago
@RuralWire
In 2010-11, the original .gov discussion with "industry" resulted in the decision that a standalone 2Mbps USC target was pointless, and that it should be rolled into a pursuit of the superfast target.

I daresay that this consultation could result in something similar: that the target premises are those which are sub-10Mbps, but the target solution for those premises should be something that is a step beyond.
Posted by gerarda 8 months ago
@wwwombat was there any "discussion" or simply the normal "consultation" Certainly all the papers you dug out from that time suggest a complete bias to an FTTC solution.
Posted by WWWombat 8 months ago
@gerarda
I'm not sure it was a bias toward FTTC as a deliberate bias away from wireless, but I can't tell you how detailed any discussion got. I suspect that there is plenty of unofficial chat behind the scenes, even if the consultation output can only quote official answers.

Posted by RuralWire 8 months ago
Interesting timing. The day following the announcement of the USO consultation, Avanti announced the commencement of a promotional campaign for the Government's subsidised satellite broadband scheme. According to the press release, BDUK have begun a direct marketing campaign aimed at the 300,000 homes that are eligible for the scheme.

http://www.avantiplc.com/news-media/pressreleases
Posted by mikejp 8 months ago
The government now says the 'Universal' commitment is not 'Universal'.Hey ho.

Ed Vaizey 13/4/2016
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