House of Lords voices desire for USO to be a full fibre USO
The Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) has been labelled as unambitious in a debate in the House of Lords on 5th June 2018, and reading it one gets the sense from reading this transcript is that what is needed is someone to sit down and spend time going through each of their concerns over both their own individual situations and issues arising from correspondence, also it is clear that some pragmatic discussion of what the various broadband statistics and International comparisons mean would be useful.
There is a sense from the transcript that because the USO is not going to write in stone that connectivity must be delivered via a full fibre connection that it is a failure even before it has started. In terms of the ambition the previous 2 Mbps USC had no legal basis behind, but the USO is different has it has legal backing and the joy of working out how it will actually work is in the hands of Ofcom and hopefully we will know more from them this summer on how it will work.
What we believe we know to date on how the USO will work is that a cost threshold of £3,400 will apply, therefore if getting a service offering at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload is going to cost more than that you will be given the option to pay the extra above the threshold OR elect for a different technology such as satellite that will meet the download and upload targets but until Low Earth Orbit clusters are in place will suffer from high latency. It is also the case that the broadband USO is based on the public demanding it, which is a big difference to the subsidy led BDUK scheme.
On the topic of the USO conflicting with areas like the R100 project in Scotland the two can exist together, but a lot depends on what companies the USO is forced upon e.g. if just BT (outside Hull area) and they don't have the 100% superfast contract for an area then things will be more difficult. What we are expecting is perhaps more of a voucher system to give the public a choice of technology providers i.e. include 4G, fixed wireless and full fibre providers and not just BT Group, a voucher or allowance scheme would probably work better in conjunction with an R100 scheme, but a lot will depend on the time scales.
There was one comical moment as there is a quick debate on outlawing 'up to' in broadband speeds, the ASA/CAP changes of the 23rd should effectively remove up to from the broadband market place replacing it with median peak time speeds, the largest providers have complied and the remainder of the market is likely to comply over time, so while a law stating 'up to' is not allowed may be a nice tick box exercise we are not sure what it will achieve.
In summary I think everyone would love the broadband USO to be a 2 Gbps minimum (House of Lords talks about a 2 Gig ambition) but too many of us have a pragmatic eye on the delivery of something that is clearly full fibre based (presume 2 Gbps is the battle cry since it is above what DOCSIS improvements are likely to achieve rather than just a result of some full fibre lobbying). Going for the full fat option would create a national roll-out scheme and once again it would almost certainly be littered with the usual when am I getting it problems.
The calls for a more realistic 30 Mbps download and 6 Mbps upload as the minimum for the broadband USO would require a great deal more work, with Ofcom estimating a cost of around £2 billion and there in lies the massive unknown come 2020 we might have 1 million demanding their USO right in the first month, or we might have 10,000. This is around £900 million to £1 billion more than is expected for the 10/1 USO and does not preclude solutions as 4G, fixed wireless or satellite broadband - the massive unknown is what retail services will be available and how broadband operators will view the 10 Mbps down (1 Mbps up) minimum i.e. how will solutions that can easily go faster will be crippled by retail pricing or will we see a lot of USO uplift work delivering superfast connectivity.
We welcome ambition but more importantly we want to see actual delivery, ripping up the work done already and re-scoping the broadband USO at this stage is likely to delay implentation until a date in 2021. We do have worries already about the date it will actually start in 2020, since so much press coverage is implying 1st January 2020 to the public or at least that is what people see when it looks likely to be around Spring 2020 currently.
A final note, the broadband USO is NOT JUST A RURAL PROBLEM, yes it may affect proportionally more premises in rural areas, but there are still those in urban areas failing to meet the 10 Mbps and 1 Mbps specification today.
Update 4:15pm We recommend anyone with a passing interest in the UK broadband world has a read of the debate that lasted for an hour on Tuesday 5th June.