Over the weekend, BT has offered to “voluntarily” provide universal broadband right across the UK for a possible £600m investment on its part, as the government opens debate on what a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for the country should look like.
The Government will carefully weigh the merits of the two approaches, it says, though it does point out that unlike under a regulatory USO, the proposal from BT is to proactively build the necessary network infrastructure to connect the majority of households and businesses “rather than wait for this to be done on request”.
It is also proposed that BT would fund this investment and recover its costs through charges for products providing access to its local access networks. The approach to recovering these costs will be considered in Ofcom’s current wholesale local access review, say the pair, and the telco says BT it will use a range of technologies to deliver this, including fibre to the cabinet, fibre to the home and fixed wireless. Fixed wireless will also be made available at an affordable price for hard to reach premises.
The BT offer has been received after the government committed to introduce a Universal Service Obligation (USO) through regulation to give every home and business in the UK the right to request a high speed connection of at least 10 Megabits per second (Mbps), considered by Ofcom enough for the average household’s needs.
However, the BT proposal would mean many premises will receive substantially more than 10Mbps, it claims, with the part of Whitehall charged with these infrastructure issues, the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), now set to “consider this offer” alongside a consultation on the regulatory USO launched today.
For Culture Secretary Karen Bradley that means, “The government is taking action to ensure that people everywhere in the UK can get a decent broadband connection as soon as possible.
“We warmly welcome BT’s offer and now will look at whether this or a regulatory approach works better for homes and businesses.
“Whichever of the two approaches we go with in the end, the driving force behind our decision making will be making sure we get the best deal for consumers.”
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A regulatory USO would provide a safety net, says the government, meaning that “fast and reliable broadband was available to everyone, regardless of where they lived”.
The consultation being launched today outlines detailed proposals for how this new right to request a connection would work in practice, and could help policy makers decide how to get better broadband in hard to reach areas.
BT Chief Executive Gavin Patterson said, “We are pleased to make a voluntary offer to deliver the Government’s goal for universal broadband access at minimum speeds of 10Mbps.
“[Our] investment will reinforce the UK’s status as the leading digital economy in the G20.”
His company expects to complete the build of this fixed network by either December 2021 or December 2022, depending on the mix of technologies used, some of which are subject to trial and industry consultation.
The Government will now work with BT over the coming months to develop the proposal – which, if it is accepted, will be legally-binding. The Government will make a decision following its consultation on the regulatory USO.