Broadband News

Broadband USO implementation now firmly with Ofcom

The Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) that will give people the right to request a broadband connection that meets a certain specification has had lots of news items written about it already and with the cost threshold now set the actual implementation has passed from Government to Ofcom, with Ofcom given up to two years to implement the USO.

In the 21st century, accessing the internet is a necessity not a luxury. We are building a Britain that is fit for the future, and we’re now putting high speed broadband on a similar footing as other essential services like water and phone lines.

Digital minister Margot James

The things we can confirm today are:

  • USO services must deliver a download speeds of at least 10 Mbps and at least 1 Mbps upload speeds, with further requirements over latency and data usage caps.
  • The cost threshold that exists on telephone lines has been adopted, so if delivering a USO capable service costs more than £3,400 for a single property, consumers will have the choice of paying the difference or opting for satellite broadband.
  • Demand aggregation will be a requirement, which will help groups of properties combine their allowance and thus get more people connected than would have happened if they'd just applied individually.
  • There is no public funding for the broadband USO, Ofcom is to be responsible for creating the industry fund that will support the USO delivery
  • Broadband providers will be able to put forward themselves for consideration as universal service providers (USP).
  • Pricing must be uniform i.e. those getting a USO service should not be paying more each month than similar services sold elsewhere commercially
  • The 10 Mbps and 1 Mbps specification will be reviewed periodically, with a view to keeping it at a safety net level to ensure households can access basic services.

The key lesson on the USO is that if you don't do anything nothing will happen, so when 2020 arrives if you have not seen any boost to beyond 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up from existing roll-outs then you need to be pro-active and consider your options. It may be that some areas end up with multiple provider options e.g. fixed wireless with £199 install, 4G mobile solution with data caps and £99 install or a full fibre option with a contribution needed above due to costs exceeding the cost threshold.

One thing missing from the list as far as we can see if a defined timeframe for work to deliver a USO connection from the day you request one, i.e. do providers get 28 days to deliver, 3 months or 12 months?

DCMS estimates that with a £3,400 cost threshold it should be possible to avoid using satellite broadband for all but the most expensive final 0.2% of UK premises (i.e. around 58,000 premises).

As with many other schemes we hope that Ofcom is actually able to nail everything down ahead of the 2020 deadline, rather than stumbling into January 2020 and no-one really being sure about who to ask or what they'll need to pay. Getting everything nailed down will also be crucial to allowing providers to set-up websites and train staff for handling the enquiries where the big unknown is whether 10,000 to 400,000 people will apply in the first month.

If all broadband roll-out work was to stop today, based on our current figures there would be 3.7% of UK premises in scope for the USO (~1,073,000 premises) but we know the superfast roll-outs are going to continue, though at nothing like the pace managed in 2016 and 2017. If the dream of 98% superfast broadband is reached and homes are built at a similar rate to normal the number needing USO work should be down to around 580,000 premises and could be even lower depending on what happens with infill work using FTTP and additional VDSL2 cabinets.

Scotland has its R100 project at an early procurement stage and Wales along with some local authorities have aims for getting closer to 100%. This means there is going to be the slightly messy situation of the USO existing in areas where work to deliver superfast broadband is still underway in 2020, so liason between the universal service providers and local authorities may be critical to a smoothly run and well received USO.

The sin bin as it stands today for local authorities with the highest proportions of premises falling into the grasp of the broadband universal service obligation is as follows:

Local Authority% premises needing USO workNumber of premises needing USO work
Figures taken from thinkbroadband broadband coverage statistics site
City and County of London 47.4% 5,300
Fermanagh and Omagh 27.7% 12,800
Orkney Islands 27.6% 3,200
City of Kingston Upon Hull 24.5% 29,000
Shetland Islands 21.4% 2,600
Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) 21% 3,200
Mid Ulster 18.7% 9,900
Sir Ceredigion - Ceredigion 18.2% 6,500
City Of Westminster 17% 22,700
Powys 16.9% 11,100
Aberdeenshire 16.2% 19,000
Mid Devon 16.2% 5,900
Argyll and Bute 16.2% 7,400
Eden District 16.1% 4,000
Uttlesford 16.1% 5,800

It will be interesting to see how much this table changes, clearly Kingston Upon Hull should vanish with the Lightstream roll-out plans by KCom. The Scottish areas are the ones to watch, since we may be seeing R100 delivery, but how far the R100 project will reach in its initial configuration is a bit of a guess still and with hints of more money being available for future work bidders may sense a few more years work from later phases.

The bottom 15 local authorities in terms of percentage currently needing USO work is part of a much wider picture, and with counties like Kent (excluding Medway) looking good with just 3% below the USO threshold the reality is that due to the size of the county 3% represents around 19,800 premises and the 6.5% in Essex represents around 41,000 premises.

On the funding of the USO it will be interesting to find out how the industry fund will work and which bits of the industry put money into the fund and how Ofcom will ensure the fund always has enough money in it to match the demand. Creating an industry led fund is likely to be less unpopular than other ideas such as a more direct levy/tax on existing connections, though of course money coming from the industry ultimately will come from the millions of broadband connections that service providers sell.

Update 9:35am If you are new to the USO or just want to find out what the responses were to the consultation the link is now available on the DCMS website.

A question was asked on our forums about whether the USO would mean you could demand a faster than 10 Mbps down 1 Mbps connection from BT if you had access to something faster from someone else, and the short answer is NO. A more fun question that Ofcom will have to consider is would an ADSL2+ connection with a 10,080 Kbps download sync speed and 1,048 Kbps upload sync count as meeting the USO? In our figures all ADSL and ADSL2+ is excluded but some with the right hardware and provider can see upload sync speeds that meet the criteria, but actual usable data throughput is still below the threshold. Even more fun is the scenario with VDSL2 where on good days someone syncs at 13 Mbps down and 1.4 Mbps up but on bad days it can drop to 9 Mbps down and 1.1 Mbps up.


OFCOM have already started on a bum note. 10mbps is not high speed broadband so so they and the government are not putting high speed broadband on the same footing as water and telephone services. Notably both of which have required a physical connection to enable their provision to households and businesses, but there remains no serious undertaking to provide the same physical connection for the provision of high speed broadband.

  • galacticz00
  • over 3 years ago

@galacticz if you move in to a house and there is no water service (ie no connection to the mains) then you have to pay to get it installed. It may be you can't get mains but may be able to pay for a bore hole if there is water available via that route. The telephone USO is essentially the same as the broadband USO - so how is this any different? Pretty much anyone can get high speed broadband if they are willing to pay. There is no USO for water/gas/sewer connection or electricity. Telephone is one of the only services that currently has a USO and that is only up to a point.

  • ian72
  • over 3 years ago

I wonder what the detail says. The telephone USO is meant to be at cost without profit, but BT ignored that 14 years ago with our phone line, coming up with a price of £4500 for 650m of self laid cable. The 900% markup on the cable didn't help Belkin cable retail 70p/m, BT price £7.00/m

  • brianhe
  • over 3 years ago

The USO is yet another rural discrimination act. You are more likely to get a demand aggregation in urban areas the rural areas.
Therefore this clause should be removed.

  • nobroadband
  • over 3 years ago

NOTE The aggregation is something providers have to offer, so if a group of four homes are all sub USO they can club together their £3,400 allowances.

If no-one talks to each other they are at liberty to chase a USO service individually, but this may increase chance of them being in the 0.2% with satellite.

Aggregation is always going to favour urban, since you have apartments of 100+ premises which are frankly very rare in rural areas.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • over 3 years ago

On pricing, other providers appear keen to be involved particularly fixed wireless operators so there may be some competition to keep things below the threshold to get you to pick them and thus the winning firm can enjoy the windfall from the fund.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • over 3 years ago

@nobroadband .. you cannot aggregate where broadband already works, so a little organisation and the patience of a saint will ultimately get you what you need. Demand aggregation is a form of positive discrimination in this case.

These numbers do not reflect the substitution effect of Mobile Broadband with antenna. Or Relish will have an opinion on the City of Westminster numbers. Ofcom may even need to find a way to remove the urban not spots from what would be considered a scheme for rural areas.

  • ValueforMoney
  • over 3 years ago

I would much rather see a 10:1 asymmetry being put into force, so if you have 10mbps down, you have 1mpbs up, or 350 down, 35 up.

Also, one of the few better things the FTC did in the US was to define 'broadband' as anything 25mbps and up. I think we should have that here:

10/1mbps: Internet Access, USO
25/2.5mbps: 'Broadband'
100/10mbps: 'Fast Internet'
1000/100mbps: 'Gigabit Internet'

These thresholds should then be reviewed every 18 months and changed as necessary. The 'goal' that Ofcom need to put in place is a clear path and timescale to get all of the UK on 1gbps+ and proper fibre.

  • zzing123
  • over 3 years ago

For those with any interest in the USO, The Electronic Communications (Universal Service) Broadband) Order 2018 is now available online.

  • RuralWire
  • over 3 years ago

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