Rural areas in the UK may have to request broadband services

The government will not help connect final five per cent of UK to the internet

Rural areas in the UK without broadband access will have to request access, after the government decided not to roll out broadband to the entirety of the UK.

The Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) consultation document reveals that homes and businesses that are currently living in areas of the UK not covered by broadband will need to formally request the service.

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Though details are currently unclear, some may have to wait until 2020 before they can do so, with the government claiming some do not want faster internet connections.

In the document, the government said: "The USO connection is demand-led that is provided on request rather than pre-emptively and a designated Universal Service Provider, or providers, is obliged to provide a connection up to a reasonable cost threshold.

"We know from the various interventions that the government has made to date that it is unlikely that everyone will want to be connected, even if that option is made available to them, and so we do not believe that an additional broadband rollout programme at this time is proportionate or would represent value for money."]

But one critic reacted by accusing the government of failing to serve people in less densely populated areas.

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Dan Howdle, editor-in-chief at Cable.co.uk, told IT Pro: "I've argued for the past two years that the final five per cent will be swept under the carpet as this rollout comes to a close. The USO consultation document is merely adding a few degrees to the slowly and carefully boiled acceptance of that by the British public.

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"What constitutes demand? Will an entire village have to speak with a single voice in order to warrant consideration? Will hamlets consisting of too few houses not constitute a pressing enough demand?"

The document went on to suggest that people will be required to contribute towards the costs of installing broadband connections over a certain threshold paid by the provider, as is already the arrangement with telephone services.

"Given the high costs of providing broadband access to premises in remote areas it is right that this is done on request, rather than rolling it out and waiting to see if people in those areas want to be connected," the document read.

The government is working to implement the USO before 2020. Around half of rural areas (around 1.5 million consumers) across the country are dealing with sub-par broadband speeds, with this rising to 57 per cent in parts of Scotland.

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The government previously announced its ambition to deliver superfast broadband services to 95 per cent of the country by 2017 through telco BT, but did not set a timeframe for the remaining regions.

Howdle suggested BT's ownership of Openreach, its fibre rollout arm, is the reason behind the difficulty of rolling out fibre to rural areas, with the telco having just survived an Ofcom review that could have seen the division separated fully from the company.

"BT's ownership of Openreach is at the heart of the problem here." he said. "As a corporate concern it must put profitability ahead of its public service responsibility. Until it is split, the final five per cent could be something we're still talking about a decade from now."

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