Countdown to the new broadband safety net

Everyone in the UK will have the legal right to request a decent and affordable broadband connection from March next year, Ofcom has confirmed.

We are implementing the UK Government’s ‘universal broadband service’ – a safety net that will give eligible homes and businesses a legal right to request a decent connection.

Through legislation, brought in last year, those households will be able to request better broadband, capable of delivering download speeds of at least 10 Mbit/s, and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbit/s. These speeds will be reviewed over time, as the amount of data people use changes.[1]

As of today, 620,000 homes and offices, or 2%, would benefit from the new scheme, although this number is decreasing as broadband networks are upgraded. These homes are among the most remote in the UK, or are far away from current broadband networks, which means they currently struggle to get a decent broadband service.

BT and KCOM will deliver the universal service

We have decided that BT and KCOM are best placed to meet the challenges of providing universal service connections. So BT will be responsible for connecting properties in the whole of the UK except the Hull area, where KCOM will be the designated provider.

We have given BT and KCOM until 20 March next year to make the necessary preparations, including changes to their systems and processes, to start building these connections. From that date, people can start making requests.

How the scheme will work

When someone makes a request, BT or KCOM will have 30 days to confirm whether the customer is eligible. This will involve establishing whether the property already has access to decent broadband, at an affordable price[2] ; or if it is due to be connected by a publicly-funded scheme within 12 months.

Once confirmed, BT or KCOM will have to deliver the connection as quickly as possible. We have set strict targets on how long they can take.[3]

Under the legislation for the new service, the cost of providing connections to eligible homes will be paid for up to £3,400.

If the required work costs more than that, customers can either pay the additional costs or seek an alternative solution outside the universal service, such as satellite broadband.

Customers who are connected through the new universal service will pay the same prices and receive the same service quality as other broadband customers who have an equivalent connection.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “As more of our daily lives move online, bringing better broadband to people and businesses is crucial. From next year, this new broadband safety net will give everyone a legal right to request a decent connection – whether you live in a city or a hamlet. This will be vital for people who are struggling to get the broadband they need.”

The UK Government wants the universal service to be funded by the whole industry. So, in the autumn, we will consult on which other companies would contribute to a fund, and in what proportions, to pay for any costs that it would not be appropriate for BT or KCOM to cover.

Thousands of homes to benefit

Broadband coverage is improving all the time. Around 95% of homes and small businesses can access superfast broadband, which offers download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s. More than half can get ultrafast speeds (at least 300 Mbit/s).[4] However, the safety net is needed for the 2% of homes and offices that can’t get decent broadband.

Better broadband and mobile – wherever you areBetter broadband and mobile – wherever you are

Implementing the universal broadband service is part of Ofcom’s programme of work to help everyone in the UK benefit from better mobile phone and broadband services.

This work also includes:

  • supporting long-term investment in fibre networks by opening up access to BT’s underground ducts and telegraph poles, making it cheaper, quicker and easier for its rivals to build their own networks;
  • incentivising BT to build fibre networks in rural areas, where there is no prospect for competing networks and a weaker commercial case for fibre investment;
  • proposed new measures to help boost mobile coverage in rural areas; and
  • our mobile coverage checker allows people to easily check what coverage is available, from which providers, in their area.

/1. The UK Government stipulated in its legislation – The Digital Economy Act 2017 – that the definition of decent broadband should be reviewed when at least 75% of premises in the UK subscribe to a broadband service that provides a download speed of at least 30 Mbit/s.

/2. If the only service available that can provide the necessary speeds costs more than £45 per month, people will have the right to request a USO connection.

/3. BT must deliver every USO connection as quickly as possible and deliver at least 80% of connections within 12 months, 95% within 18 months, and 99% within 24 months of the confirmed USO order. KCOM must deliver a USO connection as quickly as possible and no later than 12 months after someone places their order, unless there are exceptional circumstances that make it more difficult.

/4. Source: Ofcom's spring 2019 Connected Nations update.

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