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High-speed broadband to become a legal right in UK

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Everyone living in the UK will be guaranteed a broadband speed of at least 10Mbps by 2020 under the government’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) after it rejected a voluntary proposal from BT.

In July BT offered to voluntarily fulfil the government’s USO, which was initially welcomed by the government who said it would mean that many premises would receive substantially more speed and connections quicker than through a regulatory approach. 

After some months of consideration, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said: “We did not feel the proposal was strong enough for us to take the regulatory USO off the table, and have therefore decided not to pursue BT’s proposal in favour of providing a legal right to broadband.

“The government believes that only a regulatory USO offers sufficient certainty and the legal enforceability that is required to ensure high-speed broadband access for the whole of the UK by 2020. However, we welcome BT’s continued investment to deliver broadband to all parts of the UK.”

10Mbps is the speed that Ofcom says is needed to meet the requirements of an average family.

The government is now looking to set out the proposals for a legal right to high-speed broadband in secondary legislation early next year.

Once the secondary legislation is in place, Ofcom expects it will take two years to meet the USO commitment therefore hitting the anticipated 2020 date.

“We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection,” said Culture Secretary Karen Bradley.

“This is all part of our work on ensuring that Britain’s telecoms infrastructure is fit for the future and will continue to deliver the connectivity that consumers need in the digital age.”

The government said the regulatory approach also brings a number of other advantages for the consumer:

  • the minimum speed of connection can be increased over time as consumers’ connectivity requirements evolve
  • it provides for greater enforcement to help ensure households and businesses do get connected
  • the scheme will maximise the provision of fixed-line connections in the hardest to reach areas
  • a legal requirement for high-speed broadband to be provided to anyone requesting it, subject to a cost threshold (in the same way the universal service right to a landline telephone works)

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