Government rejects BT's rural broadband proposal

Mon, February 12th, 2018

The government has turned down BT’s proposal for providing broadband services...

The government has turned down BT’s proposal for providing broadband services to consumers in unconnected or remote locations. A government spokesperson said that while there was gratitude for the telecoms provider’s plan, instead the decision makers had opted for a USO.

A USO is a universal service obligation, which is thought to give the consumer a lot more power. This decision could give consumers the right to expect fast broadband with download speeds of up to 10 megabytes per second by the year 2020, irrespective of what part of the UK they happen to reside in. This kind of regulation is structured in a similar way to that which governs business landlines or general domestic call handling systems.

BT has called for the USO plan to be put on hold. The telecoms giant had offered to spend up to £600 million on connecting rural users. Its plan was to deliver the commitment for connection, with some qualifications, that would be paid for by private investors. Not paying for the rural connection infrastructure with government funds was certainly appealing to ministers, along with BT’s claim that development would begin as soon as the project received a green light. However, BT had given no assurances that the cost of the infrastructure would not be recouped at any point by an increase in rates for consumers. In addition, it was not entirely clear whether fibre optic cable would be used to connect the rural users.

A government spokesperson said that ministers believe in the great importance of a reliable and fast broadband service is for business systems, VOIP systems and general telecoms functions for domestic users. They said that everyone was entitled to an effective broadband connection, whether for the home or to support business systems.

While deciding on a USO may give rural consumers more rights, it is likely that this move will mean that they have to wait longer to get faster broadband. Regulation, however, does give the government some say in how and when the infrastructure will be rolled out. Telecoms providers such as TalkTalk and Sky had threatened action should the BT proposal gain favour, so avoiding this is another beneficial by-product of selecting the USO.

The rules should be drafted in the coming months. It will not be that long, however, before rural consumers can start asking BT for improved connections. Ofcom has decreed that 10 megabytes per second is the minimum speed that users are entitled to for fully utilising the internet for business systems, VOIP systems or leisure use. Some MPs had protested, saying that 10 megabytes per second was not fast enough, but the main decision-makers decided that Ofcom’s standard was the one that would be used. It is likely that Ofcom will increase this minimum broadband speed as time goes on.

The work is estimated to take around two years to finish, once the appropriate legislation is put in place. This should help to ensure that the pledge to provide a minimum broadband speed of 10 megabytes per second for everyone by 2020 stays on track. However, any new telecoms regulations will need to be processed by MPs and there could be issues with red tape that require some time to sort out.

For more information contact Alex Phillips at or on 07948 237 655

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