Broadband Connection Vouchers

Introduction

The UK has run a number of voucher schemes in the last few years to help subsidise the cost of broadband for those hard-to-reach areas. The most significant one running in 2017 are the various schemes to satisfy the 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment (USC) target and in some areas extra help with delivering superfast where the roll-outs have not already reached.

Where are broadband connection vouchers available?
Who can apply for a voucher?
What does the voucher pay for?
What is the application process?
Can I use the voucher to reduce my monthly costs?
What sort of broadband speeds can I get from the scheme?
Can I use the vouchers to pay for fibre on demand to replace our leased line?
Are all areas of each county covered by the scheme?
We already have FTTC, can we apply for a voucher?
I have tried to order faster products before, but it was not available, what has changed?
Can I get a Universal Service Obligation voucher?

Where are broadband connection vouchers available?

Many business people will remember the Connection Voucher scheme ran by the UK Government that ended in April 2015 once the £40m allocated had been used by 55,000 businesses, there are calls for a new version of that superfast voucher scheme but currently most vouchers are about getting business and residential connection above 2 Mbps.

The current vouchers are administered by the various local authorities and devolved administrations around the UK, so the simplest way to find the link is to do a postcode search on our checker site https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/postcode-search which should then offer a link to the appropriate scheme.

Who can apply for a voucher?

The Univeral Service Commitment vouchers are available to both residential and business users, but some areas do have additional voucher schemes to help business install much better broadband.

Wales has two schemes the Acccess Broadband Scheme which can supply vouchers of £400 to get you running at over 10 Mbps, or £800 for a 30 Mbps and above connection to both residential and consumer. There is a much higher value voucher available to business in Wales to get ultrafast broadband installed where up to £10,000 is available to get an over 100 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload connection installed.

What does the voucher pay for?

While the vouchers vary in value from area to area and what service you are getting installed a common feature is that the vouchers are designed to only cover the setup costs of getting better broadband installed. This means that the voucher cannot be used to pay the ongoing monthly costs, but if there is a broadband router needed rather than paying this cost over the contract term this will usually also be covered by the voucher depending on its total value.

What is the application process?

The precise application process will vary from county to county, but the generally you need to show your current broadband connection is below a certain level - 2 Mbps (Mega bits per second) in the case of the Universal Service Commitment.

None of the schemes actually pay you money, generally it is a case of claiming back once you have the invoices or you are given a voucher code which the provider will use and they then claim back the value of the voucher once your service is up and running.

Can I use the voucher to reduce my monthly costs?

The vouchers can only be used for the initial connection, any ongoing subsidy is not allowed, therefore when choosing which service to order, you must consider whether you can afford the ongoing monthly cost and when choosing a new service consider the length of the contract term. Some of the firms taking part in the USC scheme do let you leave your contract with no penalty if a county brings standard superfast broadband services to an area.

What sort of broadband speeds can I get from the scheme?

This all depends on what service you actually order, so while fixed wireless can deliver ultrafast speeds of over 100 Mbps in the right conditions speeds of 20 to 40 Mbps are much more common but until a full survey has been done you will often not know. Numerous providers now offer 4G with a router you can place on a window sill and just like with fixed wireless the speeds will depend a lot on your location.

Can I use the vouchers to pay for fibre on demand to replace our leased line?

Fibre on Demand can be used as a replacement so long as your existing connection speeds mean you qualify for a voucher but any business considering replacing a leased line should discuss with their provider what the implications are in terms bandwidth guarantees and the speed of fault repair, since leased lines while expensive do carry better guarantees than other products.

The Fibre on Demand service provides a 300 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload service in areas where FTTC is available, but with installation costs starting at over £1000+VAT, a three year contract and monthly costs in the £300 region it is not a service to sign up to on a whim. In Wales Spectrum Internet should be able to offer a quote and across the UK FluidOne appear to be a company quoting and getting the service installed.

Leased lines in theory are available anywhere in the UK and in some cases business Ethernet can be cheaper than Fibre on Demand in urban areas.

Are all areas of each county covered by the scheme?

The precise addresses that are eligible for the voucher scheme will vary, so before making any plans or signing up for a service check that your location is part of the scheme and you meet any other criteria.

We already have FTTC, can we apply for a voucher?

The answer all depends on what sort of speeds are getting from Fibre to the Cabinet (VDSL2) if your speeds are superfast then unless you are applying for an ultrafast business voucher then you will not be eligible.

For the small number of people who are a couple of kilometres from their fibre cabinet then you are likely to be getting under 2 Mbps even if you do try and order a FTTC service, so you should still be eligible under the Universal Service Commitment schemes. There may be a grey area as the checkers may predict 3 or 4 Mbps sometimes, but once installed it may not even work, therefore you may find some areas insist you try and order FTTC first, when ordering be careful to make not of the minimum speed threshold the provider tells you, since if the speeds delivered are under this then under voluntary Ofcom Broadband Speeds Code of Practice you will be able to exit the contract without penalty.

I have tried to order faster products before, but it was not available, what has changed?

The difference is that the vouchers will help to pay for a firm to come out and survey whether their service is available, so for example in the case of fixed wireless do a test on site to confirm what the theoretical maps suggest is available is actually available.

Can I get a Universal Service Obligation voucher?

Not yet, unless you live in Wales and qualify for their ABC scheme. The Universal Service Obligation scheme (USO) is part of the Digital Economy Bill which was rushed through just before the June 2017 General Election and is not expected to be in full effect until 2020.

The Universal Service Obligation will be about getting a minimum speed of 10 Mbps to those who ask for it, and at present we do not know if it will be a voucher based scheme or whether a single operator will run the scheme across the whole of the UK. The time between the USO entering the law books and 2020 should see this detail thrashed out between the Government, Ofcom and broadband providers.