Slow broadband to be outlawed as government pledges 10Mbps minimum

The UK government has rejected BT's voluntary agreement to deliver universal broadband

Broadband cable

The UK government has said that everyone in the UK should have access to internet speeds of at least 10 Mbps by 2020 and also rejected a voluntary offer from BT.

This will be delivered through a regulatory Universal Service Obligation (USO) which means that there is a legal requirement for high-speed broadband to be provided to anyone requesting it, subject to a cost threshold.

BT gave the government a proposal last summer to deliver universal broadband through a voluntary agreement but this has now been rejected. The government did not feel the proposal was strong enough to "take the regulatory USO off the table" so did not choose this option.

"We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection," said Karen Bradley, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.

"We are grateful to BT for their proposal but have decided that only a regulatory approach will make high-speed broadband a reality for everyone in the UK, regardless of where they live or work.

"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 also highlighted several benefits to the regulatory approach, including that the minimum speed of connection can be increased over time and the scheme will maximise the provision of fixed line connections in the hardest to reach areas.

The decision was made following a recommendation from Ofcom, who stated that this speed was needed to meet the requirements of an average family.

A BT spokesperson told IT Pro the company respected the government's decision.

"BT and Openreach want to get on with the job of making decent broadband available to everyone in the UK so we'll continue to explore the commercial options for bringing faster speeds to those parts of the country which are hardest-to-reach," said the spokesperson. "Alongside this, we'll work closely with Government, Ofcom and industry to help deliver the regulatory USO.

The Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) Lord Adonis welcomed the government's plans. 

"With more and more services available online only, having access to a fast, reliable broadband speed is essential for residents and businesses alike," he said. "Introducing a Universal Service Obligation was one of 12 infrastructure priorities we identified in June, so I'm pleased to see the Government taking action which will give people a legal right to minimum speeds by 2020."

Lord Adonis added: "But in the meantime, there are communities suffering poor broadband and mobile services now that need help -- which is why I've written to Ofcom urging them to work urgently with Government to find some immediate solutions to this pressing issue.

"Our forthcoming National Infrastructure Assessment -- the first of its kind for our country -- will also look at the longer-term investments needed as our demands for ever-greater speeds continues."

Tristia Harrison, the CEO of TalkTalk, said on Twitter: "The Government has made the right decision for consumers. Broadband is increasingly a utility and it is critical that all of society has fast affordable access.

"By opting for formal regulation rather than weaker promises, ministers are guaranteeing consumers will get the minimum speeds they need at a price they can afford. The whole industry now needs to work together to ensure customers see the benefits as quickly as possible."

"We look forward to receiving more details from the Government outlining its approach to defining the regulatory USO, including the proposed funding mechanism."

The NIC called for action to protect mobile phone customers after figures emerged last week showing large parts of the country may not be getting the most basic services expected, including 4G only being available across just 43% of the UK's landmass.

Image source: Shutterstock

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