Broadband News

Scotland wants Westminster to create meaningful USO

In a fairly low key release last week the Deputy First Minister John Swinney in the Scottish Government is urging Ofcom and the UK Government to create a Universal Service Obligation for broadband.

"The Scottish Government has set an ambitious digital policy agenda aimed at ensuring that all of Scotland can access world class digital connectivity by 2020 and we are taking forward a range of activity and investment to deliver this.

Broadband is something that everyone in Scotland should have access to – it’s a vital service in today’s world. That is why I am pressing the UK Government to introduce a broadband Universal Service Obligation, which would set out access as an entitlement.

The introduction of a USO for broadband with an appropriate speed requirement, as introduced by Finland, Malta and Spain in recent years, would be a way of ensuring that no-one is excluded from the benefits of this integral technology.

Call for USO by Scottish Deputy First Minister

An obligation with legal power behind would be very welcome, but even though a basic telephone line has a USO there are places in the UK each year where the price of new poles and wiring pushes the basic cost well above the USO limit of £3,000 and with remote fixed line broadband likely to suffer similar issues it will be interesting to see how a USO is implemented. A very important consideration is that a USO is likely to prop up the concept that BT is the national telecoms operator for the UK in the face of an increasing amount of alt-net competition.

Also if Scotland is really going to deliver world class digital connectivity to all of Scotland then surely a USO is irrelevant as if everyone has a world class connection the job is done?

While fibre based coverage in Scotland is improving and we estimate it stands at 74.8% currently, the coverage at Superfast speeds (30 Mbps and faster) is 71.1%. What many may not fully appreciate is that the 2017 95% target in Scotland is for people with access to fibre based broadband, i.e. there is no speed qualifier, so someone who gets no speed boost from FTTC would still qualify in the 95%. Getting 5 or 6 Mbps from a FTTC based solution is not in any sense world class.

Well done to Mark over at ISPreview for spotting this announcement buried away on a site.


16 years after BT first started rolling out broadband, I have a world-beating 0.4Mbps (not sure which world, but there you go) and even BDUK/Superfast Cymru is dragging its feet in improving this (its been delayed by around 24 months due to problems, according to SFC, looks like a lot of places are slipping, wonder if they're going to reach the target?). A USO would have been very welcome even if it "only" provided 6Mbps for a few years.

  • csimon
  • over 5 years ago

Fine words from the Deputy First Minister, but where are the details? I wonder which technology he intends to use to delivery this marvellous world class USO in rural areas? If only I knew.

  • RuralWire
  • over 5 years ago

The devil would be in the details. One obvious way of dealing with this is for Ofcom to regulate differently in Scotland. That would mean abandoning national pricing and conditions (so Scotland would have its own wholesale pricing regime for instance).

  • TheEulerID
  • over 5 years ago

The point, of course, is to spread the cost of serving remote Scottish areas onto customers in London. That is part of the fine tradition by which the Scottish Government tries to get its share of the pot of money spent on Transport for London.

There are, of course, many models for financing universal service obligations. It is not necessary to rely on internal cross-subsidies within BT though that may be the most convenient way of hiding the real cost.

  • gah789
  • over 5 years ago

Yes why not get a share of national infrastructure improvements - Crossrail I is projected at £16 BILLION. Plus Crossrail II ? And HS2??

And remember, were some funds not diverted from the License Fee?

  • airds
  • over 5 years ago

When Cameron is up on his wife's family estate on Jura holidaying, hope he notices life in the slow broadband lane ....

  • airds
  • over 5 years ago


Scotrail is the most heavily subsidised operator in the UK at 17.47p/passenger km. In contrast, operators in the London/South Eastern area are relatively lightly subsidised or actually provide income to the Treasury. The facts are London/SE's population is increasing rapidly.

  • TheEulerID
  • over 5 years ago

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