10Mpbs minimum broadband speeds too low, government warned

The government has been warned that it needs to improve upon its Universal Service Obligation (USO), which will guarantee everyone in the UK at least 10Mbps internet speeds, or risk economic damage.

Peers called the USO “unambitious” and said it would perpetuate the digital divide where built up metropolitan areas enjoy access to superfast speeds while those living in rural areas are not afforded such luxuries.

The House of Lords attempted to force the government to raise the USO to 30Mbps by 2020 last year, but this was ultimately derailed by the snap general election which occurred just a few months later. 

The administration has been urged to use powers contained in existing legislation to review the benchmark standard.

But responding, the government pointed out the USO was “a safety net” and it had “much greater ambitions” for connectivity.

Opening the debate, Labour spokesman Lord Stevenson of Balmacara said: “Surely the architecture of the USO has to be consistent with the government’s productivity plan, the industrial strategy and the national infrastructure plan.

“The argument is that without some ambition the USO itself may become a constraint on all these important challenges.”

He argued the government needed to exercise its powers “to up its game”.

New rules were introduced by Ofcom in March that allows customers to cancel their broadband contracts if the internet speeds they receive are lower than advertised. 

Culture minister Matt Hancock has previously said that those that wanted “really tip-top level” broadband access would have to pay more. 

For the Liberal Democrats, Lord Foster of Bath said: “Sadly with the unambitious USO that we have before us the digital divide will continue.”

Tory peer Earl Cathcart said he lived in Norfolk and like many other areas of the country received “appalling broadband speeds”.

He said it was so bad that when he was sent a long farming document by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) he could not download it.

He added: “So I have to ring up my agent in Norwich, get him to print it out and send it to me in the post.

“That’s hardly 21st century communications, but at least the lost is reliable.”

Digital minister Lord Ashton of Hyde told the Lords the 10Mbps USO was “a safety net”.

“But of course the government does have much greater ambitions for greater connectivity across all parts of the UK,” he added.

“The USO has an important part to play in ensuring that no one is left behind.”

The minister told peers the present minimum specification of of 10Mbps was being kept under review.

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