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.