Ofcom calls for potential broadband USO firms to step forward
The broadband Universal Service Obligation is a welcome safety net of last resort that Ofcom is working towards delivering and Ofcom has set out more detail on the broadband obligation and is calling for prospective USO providers to step forward to be counted and importantly for operators compensation is discussed (deadline is 20th August 2018).
Correction 2:40pm: Ofcom has pointed out that the definition using sync speed is part of the The Electronic Communications (Universal Service) (Broadband) Order 2018 and forms the technical specification of the USO. So it is not a case of Ofcom watering down the broadband USO as we originally suggested. While it is possible our fragile memory forgot this, it is also highly likely that the public will have forgotten or not even been aware, therefore we have retained our paragraph highlighting why sync speed measures can be problematic.
We all talk of the broadband USO being a service of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, but crucially today the Ofcom publication is talking of sync speeds, which is interesting as this brings ADSL2+ back into the game where we have previously discounted it because while 1-1.1 Mbps upload sync speeds are possible once overheads are taken into account the public will only see speeds on the devices of below 1 Mbps. The overheads vary across ADSL/ADSL2+/VDSL2 but usually in best case scenarios you need to allow for 4% to 10% of sync speed being lost to overheads (Other technologies may have different levels of overheads involved).
Technical specification of the USOThe Order states that: “affordable broadband connections and services must be provided throughout the United Kingdom with all the following characteristics
- download sync speed of at least 10 megabits per second;
- an upload sync speed of at least 1 megabit per second;
- a contention ratio of no higher than 50:1;
- latency which is capable of allowing the end-user to make and receive voice calls over the connection effectively;
- the capability to allow data usage of at least 100 gigabytes per month.
Eligibility for the USO
The legislation states that premises will be eligible to request a USO connection in the following circumstances:
- where a broadband connection that meets the USO specification is not already available;
- where such a connection will not be provided by a publicly-funded rollout scheme in the next year (see Annex 4 for further information on existing rollout schemes); and
- where the cost of connection is less than £3,400. Where the costs are higher than this amount, consumers and businesses will be able to receive the service if they pay any costs over £3,400.USO Specification - Ofcom
The footnotes give a definition of latency not exceeding 200ms, so this does rule the standard geo-stationary satellite broadband services out of the equation (unless a hybrid solution was used, e.g. low data rate ADSL2+ with low latency for voice, and high bandwidth traffic pushed over the high latency satellite solution). The 50:1 contention ratio is we believe a very theoretical thing as for standard broadband services this has not existed as a specification since 2004 - the more common thing to do in 2018 is state what the commited bit rate at peak times is.
The eligibility criteria is interesting as this seems to be an olive branch for the numerous fixed wireless operators across the UK, since if their service is available then a USO provider cannot use the scheme to overbuild them, though given the concerns we have had voiced to us over some wireless providers over stating coverage there are likely to be a number of provider says no, but USO scheme says yes then can. The keystone appears to be the Ofcom Connected Nations Report which should have quarterly updates going forward we believe, but as we have seen it is not always 100% accurate, invariably when comparing with our data sets we do agree but there are various edge cases and sometimes what appear to be over optimistic data sets provided by operators e.g. full fibre ticked as available but people still not able to actually order it months after the release of the dataset.
The differences in how the issue around the speeds 10/1 speeds are handled likely explains the difference between our figures and that of Ofcom who are talking of around 900,000 premises needing USO interventation in Jan 2018 down from 1.1 million in April 2018. If we ignore the upload criteria our latest figures from 18th June indicate 631,000 premises don't meet a 10 Mbps download speed criteria and when we exclude all ADSL/ADSL2+ services too this rises to 1,023,000 premises; therefore if we were to assume that reasonable speed ADSL2+ e.g. 13 or 14 Mbps were able to hit a just over 1 Mbps sync speed we would very likely agree with the Ofcom premises figures.
The document does make it clear that the broadband USO is not a roll-out programme, but one the public will need to request and that delivery is not overnight but infrastructure may need to be built out to people, how long will of course depend on what technology is used and how close it already gets to a location.
USO providers can be regional rather than UK wide with the smallest area that will be considered is a local authority area, which may prove challenging for some rural operators in terms of connecting people in the local urban town.
An important point is that operators will be required to offer uniform pricing across the UK and the USO service cannot be more expensive per month than the same product offered in commercial areas and under the proposals when you enquire about a USO service the operator will have 20 working days to respond as to whether it is possible and if delivery is within the £3,400 limit and if not give the option for people to pay the difference.
The £3,400 limit is interesting and the Ofcom document does go into some depth that the cost should not be bourne by the first person to order but that the ability for others to access the new infrastructure should be taken into account.
On the topic of who funds the work involved in delivery for that £3,400 limit how the USO will be funded is best explained by the following flow chart.
To end there is some good news Ofcom appears hopeful that they may have things in place that around Summer 2019 that the processes may be in place and ready, though whether providers will be ready is another story.