Broadband News

Launch date for Broadband USO set as 20th March 2020 - updated

The long awaited Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) moves a step closer as the 20th March 2020 has been announced as the date when it will take effect.

The broadband USO is designed to give everyone the legal right to a 10 Mbps download sync speed and 1 Mbps upload sync speed connection.

The technologies identified as able to deliver the USO are FTTP, most VDSL2 (but not all due to distance issues), fixed wireless and mobile broadband (4G and 5G).  It appears that ADSL2+ is excluded from being supplied as a USO solution, though for the small number of ADSL2+ lines that do have a greater than 1 Mbps upload sync we suspect you may fail the eligibility checks - the Ofcom paperwork does not give any guidance on this.

The two designated USO providers are BT Group and KCOM and they have 30 days from when you contact them to determine if you are eligible with the conditions including:

  • Check that no access to a current USO capable service is available.
  • Not covered by a public scheme that will deliver something that exceeds the USO parameters in the next 12 months
  • Not cost the company more than £3,400 to deliver, if it does then you will have the option to pay the difference or opt for something such as a satellite broadband service or continue as you are today
  • If a USO speed or better service is available but costs more than £45/m then the USO provider can deliver a service to you

BT does have some parameters set for delivery of the service, so for those qualifying as eligible they must deliver 80% of those connections within 12 months, 95% within 18 months and 99% within 24 months.

In areas where BT offers the USO via the EE 4G Home Router service if the speeds are found to still be below the 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up criteria then you will be given the option of paying £100 to have an external antenna fitted.

We don't know what technologies BT is planning to use at individual locations, but we would expect a mixture of technologies and some lucky people may even get FTTP. Our expectation though is that a large number will be served by a 4G service.

BT has undertook to not charge more than £45/m for the USO services and pricing will be the same as other services of the same technology and speed that are sold commercially across the UK, i.e. there should be no price supplement just because its broadband from a USO request. NOTE: It is not clear if this is price is unlimited or whether it carries a usage allowance cap, the minimum allowance to qualify as a USO service is 100GB per month.

Further statements on how the USO fund will operate and how the operators will be able to recover costs should be published in the autumn.

Our monthly coverage update is due on the 7th but to summarise our understanding of the position at the slow speed end of the spectrum, as of 6th June 2019 for the UK as a whole.

  • Below 2 Mbps download speed: 170,760 premises i.e. 0.57%
  • Below 10 Mbps download speed: 514,166 premises, i.e. 1.71%
  • Below 15 Mbps download speed: 755,040 premises, i.e. 2.52%
  • Below 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload (USO threshold): 835,404 premises i.e. 2.78%

The figure for the USO threshold is so high because ADSL2+ lines of with expected download connection speeds 16 Mbps and 1056 Kbps upload connection speed are also included, since in our figures we exclude ADSL2+ as being USO compliant.

Ofcom is reporting the USO will cover some 2% of UK premises i.e. 619,000 as of its January 2019 Connected Nations report. 

VERY IMPORTANT The timeframes for delivery are for individuals requesting a USO intervention. So how difficult or easy the 80, 95% and 99% targets will be will very much depend on the rate that people apply and are accepted as eligible for a USO connection.

Update 3pm Thursday 6th June: We are adding a couple of snippets from the BT email we got this morning on the subject of the USO.

BT is very pleased to have been chosen by Ofcom to deliver the Government’s promise to connect the UK. It’s great news that the majority of homes and businesses in rural areas can choose a fixed wireless service from EE to solve the problem of slow broadband and get speeds way faster than 10Mbps.

Through Openreach we are now extending our fibre broadband network to reach an additional 40,000 premises within the USO area for whom FWA is not the answer. We’ll continue to drive discussions with Ofcom, Government and industry to explore alternative options to connect up every property in the country and ensure no-one is left behind.

BT Group Chief Executive Philip Jansen

We should also add that there is a suggestion that around 100,000 premises from those within what is obviously USO areas are expected to be difficult and costly to reach, to the extent that the £3,400 threshold is likely to be broken meaning people in those areas will be given a choice of continuing as now, paying the difference to get the better service or opting for something like a satellite connection.

The technology choice for BT is also clear now - 75% of the expected 600,000 is likely to be served with 4G EE Home. Of the remaining 25% around 40,000 are likely to fall below the cost threshold and BT will fund the roll-out to these premises ahead of the implementation of cost recovery mechanisms. This lives the 100,000 of the previous paragraph where things are harder or more creative solutions such as the B4RN fttp model may need to be adopted.

The USO is not just a rural problem, the 10 council areas with the highest percentage of premises not reaching 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload according to our analysis are:

  • City and County of London: 44.2% with potential to request USO intervention
  • Orkney Islands: 26.8%
  • Fermanagh and Omagh: 24.2%
  • Shetland Islands: 19%
  • Western Isles: 16.8%
  • Ceredigion: 15.8%
  • Mid Ulster: 15.7%
  • City of Westminster: 15.1%
  • Eden District: 14.8%
  • Highland: 14.8%

Of course if an ADSL2+ connection hitting a decent download of 17 Mbps and just getting over the 1000 Kbps upload sync speed criteria means intervention is precluded then the City of London will have a very different figure, illustrated by the just 0.1% of premises thought to be unable to reach a 15 Mbps download speed. Also there is the reality that providers like Relish in theory cover most of that area with the three fixed wireless service and 4G and maybe even 5G speeds are probably good. 

The news that around 75% of the USO area is likely to receive 4G connectivity can be said to make a mockery of all the time and effect involved in the USO since the EE 4G Home service is available commercial and it is not at all clear what difference there would be between people ordering that product today and via the USO. With the rules around cost it should be no different to other services, but it is possible that maybe usage allowances are tweaked - maybe (we can hope) with unlimited usage subject to a fair policy for USO areas. 

Update 5pm: A statement from the Culture Secretary arrived at 4:30pm, so have added it.

As part of our commitment to building a Britain that works for everyone, we’re giving every home and business the legal right to get a decent connection. I welcome Ofcom’s announcement today and look forward to seeing BT and KCOM connecting customers from March next year.

We’ve already brought superfast broadband to 96% of the UK and are pushing forward with delivering a nationwide full-fibre network by 2033, prioritising rural locations first.

Jeremy Wright, DCMS Secretary of State

On the prioritisation of rural locations for full fibre roll-outs this is referring to programmes using public money to seed more FTTP appearing in rural locations, with the seed funding used to pay for key locations e.g. schools and council buildings with the hope that operators will subsequently deliver FTTH to the surrounding homes. The bulk of what will be delivered in terms of FTTP before 2025 is going to be commercial roll-out in urban areas - remembering urban UK comprises around 80% of premises, then 10% rural and a further 10% that can be called deep rural. The prioritisation is about trying to ensure that when the BDUK projects which are delivering FTTP today finish that rural FTTP delivery does not stall until every one panics in 2030 and deadlines are looming. An awful lot of what is delivered commercially is going to overlap with the Virgin Media network which by 2025 will be offering 1 Gbps packages across the UK, so while not full fibre it will be competing in terms of the experience.

Update 11th June: Added the word upload in bold to ensure people are not confused in situations where we are referring to 1 Mbps sync speed, i.e. 1 Mbps upload sync speed.


Just out of curiosity, how far does the £3,400 threshold take us? What can we get for £3,400? Will it fund a London EO line rearrangement? Rural villages? Of course ymmv and depends on pooling possibilities but is it generally enough for the most of sub-USO lines (without reverting to wireless) or does it in practice rule out almost all current sub-USO lines?

  • hvis42
  • about 1 year ago

As the BT bit says they think its enough for 40,000 lines to get something that is not 4G. That the bulk is being pushed to 4G suggests that this is seen as the cheaper option for the majority.

So London EO lines will be prime EE 4G stuff, or may be refused if Relish wireless present.

As for what £3,400 buys you, probably a lot less than people think.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

£3400 doesn't buy you much, 12l4 years ago 650m copper cable, self dug, and connected at both ends was costed at £4400, so £1000 to pay. There was little choice due to complete absence of mobile coverage at the time.

  • brianhe
  • about 1 year ago

20th March 2020 has been announced as the date when it will take effect.

'I welcome Ofcom’s announcement today and look forward to seeing BT and KCOM connecting customers from March next year.'


  • Somerset
  • about 1 year ago

So BT decide incorrectly the USO solution for a property is a EE 4G Home Router but it fails to delivery the required USO speeds they then expect the homeowner to pay £100 for an external aerial!!!! that's a joke and a licence for BT to make extra money out of the USO, surely if a BT USO solution fails to delivery it should be them that offers the correct solution that works otherwise they will be offering everyone a EE 4G Home Router. I take from this that the up £3400 is not just about the infrastructure required but also about their admin costs which are going to makeup most of the up £3400

  • dect
  • about 1 year ago

some lucky people may even get FTTP

Depends if they are lucky or not, with that they are stuck with higher prices and lack of choice of suppliers.

this country is awful, naff broadband for many people, naff bus services for many people , naff roads and naff train services and plenty of other naff things as well.
that is the problem with privatisation

  • zyborg47
  • about 1 year ago

@Dect Yes I was a bit surprised by the aerial charge if its within the 3400 I don't see why USO can't fund that.

The obvious thing for OR to do is 4G everywhere and only fall back to another solution when that won't work. (cheapest/fastest rollout method for USO) I think you will see tiny amounts of fttp where very close fttp already exists with easy dig or existing ducts etc. You might see a bit of line rearrangement but OR hate that so....

  • Croft12
  • about 1 year ago

If there is 4G EE coverage I assume (dangerous) that I won’t be ‘eligible’ for connection under the USO rules as I have access to a ‘decent’ broadband service but surely if the 4G signal is poor such that I need the aerial this should be covered by the £3,400? This report is the best I’ve seen on this but I’d welcome some clarification on eligibility

  • mrsrmb
  • about 1 year ago

Sadly this was all obvious as soon as the 'legal right to a 10 Mbps download sync speed' and a cost ceiling was stated.

It was never going to be anything but the cheapest solution to meet the standards set, and yet still people seem so unaware that a legal right to 'request' a service doesn't always mean you are going to get one unless you put your hand in your pocket and make up the difference.

  • Swac3
  • about 1 year ago

This is a joke — another government initiative to overcome the digital divide and create a more balanced national network has been turned into effectively a marketing tool for private infrastructure companies.

I feel like public understanding of this technology isn't good enough, and if people understood how the internet operated they would demand more digital equality.

I'm an artist and I'd like to make a short film about this — if anyone has good knowledge on this and would be up for speaking to me, get in touch on jacobbolton [at] protonmail[.]com, would appreciate picking your brains.

  • jacobbolton
  • about 1 year ago

Waves hand at the 'if anyone has good knowledge' part and not like my email address is hidden

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

A number of politicians have erroneously mentioned a 'legal right to a 10 Mbps download sync speed'. In reality the USO is in fact a 'legal right to request a quote for a 10 Mbps download speed service’. Whether you subsequently get the service may depend on your appetite to part-fund it if the cost exceeds the USO threshold.

  • New_Londoner
  • about 1 year ago

I'd like to know a little more about the 'suspicion' stated in para 3

" It appears that ADSL2+ is excluded from being supplied as a USO solution, though for the small number of ADSL2+ lines that do have a greater than 1 Mbps sync we suspect you may fail the eligibility checks - the Ofcom paperwork does not give any guidance on this."

Here in SW Scotland we've very recently been upgraded from an EO line to ADSL2+ after years of fighting for an improvement to the 0.5 meg we were getting. Have BT got a cunning plan to stop us qualifying for USO?

Any help would be greatly appreciated

  • rhum
  • about 1 year ago

@jacob..Go for it guys.. I can't wait to see what you come up with.
I am one of the people where the USO is going to do nothing for me.
With or without a 'fricking' aerial

  • nobroadband
  • about 1 year ago

@Andrew ... congratulations on the gong ... just saying

@Jacob - yeap go for it ... I personally think that there is a web of misconception being weaved - and some are benefiting from this conspiracy of ignorance - nuf said

@anyone else ... any chance of some help with the post 2 above please?

  • rhum
  • about 1 year ago

cant come fast enough for me only been waiting 9yrs.

only takes ALL night to update me ps4 be nice to have it come down faster.

  • plc143
  • about 1 year ago

cant come fast enough for me only been waiting 9yrs.

only takes ALL night to update my ps4 be nice to have it come down faster.

  • plc143
  • about 1 year ago

Unless your line supports download speeds in excess of 10Mbps then the upgrade from ADSL to ADSL2+ will make no difference to your eligibility for the USO. If you were on 0.5Mbps previously I doubt ADSL2+ will make a significant difference.

  • New_Londoner
  • about 1 year ago

Thanks for your comments - as I stated in my initial post the exchange was upgraded from EO broadband which stands for Exchange Only (sometimes referred to as exchange activated). This type of exchange could only output 0.5Meg... even if you lived next door to it that's all you would get. It was upgraded to ADSL2+ in late April, I'm about 3 miles away and now get c3.2 meg - the nearest property to the exchange is now getting 22.8.

The actual question is why if I get > 1 Mbps on ADSL2+ (which I now do), is it suspected that I may fail the USO eligibility checks?

  • rhum
  • about 1 year ago

Exchange Activate and Exchange Only are two different things, though those small rural exchanges with Exchange Activate service had invariably exchange only lines (only adding this to avoid people thinking exchange only lines are restricted to 0.5 Mbps).

The part in the article around 'some' ADSL2+ lines potentially not qualifying for the USO intervention is around the upload sync speeds. If your ADSL2+ download speed is 3.2 Mbps then you will qualify for intervention.

If its not clear in the article where I am talking about download and upload speeds happy to add some clarification/bolding

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

thanks for correcting my error - yes our Exchange WAS Exchange Activate with exchange only lines. Furthermore I was not aware that 'sync' actually means 'upload sync speeds'. I'm sure many others on here will have known... but some, like me, wouldn't.

I'm pretty sure that the £3,400 threshold will stop our community benefiting - even when if the 100 or so users are aggregated. Sadly many only read the headlines and not the small print!

Obviously the Scottish R100 program may benefit us ... we'll wait and see ... though I'm sure there will be more small print

  • rhum
  • about 1 year ago

It is my mistake - I missed an upload, so 1 Mbps sync should have read 1 Mbps upload sync.

If you were able to aggregate 100 users that is potential spend cap of £340,000 which should go some way towards a better solution.

For areas like yours the bigger question is what will the R100 deliver, it might not be full fibre but might be a TV Whitespace or 4G service that can do superfast speeds for the majority and above USO speeds for others.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

@andrew - thanks for clarifying ... clearly not all of the users will now be less than the threshold as at least 8 I know will be > 10 download & 1 upload... I'll keep an eye on this great site of yours - and keep you updated if you wish


  • rhum
  • about 1 year ago

Cant help feeling that no matter how many users aggregate you're only ever going to get the minimum spend to achieve the USO requirement.
So there is every chance that USO connections while a great boost from what is currently available to some people, wont drastically advance the expansion of Fibre deeper and will simply leave those people behind for another decade.

I may be wrong, and USO connection is carried out with a good plan/design for its future development, but that's expecting a lot.

Also remains to be seen just how well anything USO funded in Scotland meshes with the R100 aim.

  • Swac3
  • about 1 year ago

Minimum spend yes, but more than enough to make a drastic difference for those that want it - though as noted above the take up of 4g is pretty poor so many ppl under USO have shown no interest so far in existing speed boosts.

  • Croft12
  • about 1 year ago

Have any studies been conducted on how far 4G off a single transmitter under EE service can be pushed before contention starts to kick-in again? If a community of, say, 200premises all elect to go down the 4G route under USO, what is this going to do to those that have already elected to take a commercial service up this way?

  • p6resthome
  • about 1 year ago

For every additional user the service will get worse - I would imagine that EE will probably do what Relish / Three 4G did in the SE16 area and stop new users signing up because the network is too congested

  • Malcolmb1
  • about 1 year ago

A big problem I have encountered, is that in villages you seem to have a disproportionate amount of old folk, a lot seem not in the slightest bit interested in interweb nonsense so they will never push for better connectivity. This depresses the sale and implementation of fixed broadband services so you will always get an adhoc service provided as the onus of providing a service isn't being pushed for. This then keeps younger families from moving into villages, (yes good BB is a most wished for) and the cycle continues. Those of us that do wish to be part either have to up sticks or hope.

  • Necroscope445
  • about 1 year ago

I'm not sure that I've understood USO correctly. Currently I live an area with ADSL2+ technology giving me (real) connection speed of 14 Mbps and 0.9 Mbps upload connection speed. Even though I'm literally surrounded by FTTC and even FTTP (W2 postcode here), I was told by Openreach that they have no plans to upgrade.

Am I eligible to request USO connection? To my understanding, USO guarantees at least 1 Mbps upload connection speed that I don't get.

I'm planning to start a small campaign for the neighbourhood (100+ buildings) but I'd like to know if should even start it.

  • Draak
  • 6 months ago

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