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National Service Obligation (USO) Update

Friday 30th March, 2018

National Service Obligation (USO) Update

The UK Government is introducing a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband as part of its commitment in the UK Digital Strategy (March 2017) to ensure that the UK has world-class digital connectivity and inclusion.

The new USO is a UK-wide measure, intended to fill the gap left by the UK Government’s existing broadband roll-out programs, to deliver broadband connections to the hardest to reach premises in the UK. Ofcom reported that as of May 2017, 1.1 million premises (4%) in the UK would qualify for the USO.

At present around 95% of the UK (and Worcestershire) can already order a fixed “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) connection and by 2020 this is expected to reach around 98%, which means that the new USO will be primarily focused upon helping to cater for those in the final 2%; estimated to be somewhere around 300,000 to 500,000 premises nationwide in 2020.

How will it be implemented?

The UK Government was considering two options for the delivery of its aim for universal access to broadband connections with at least 10 Mbps download speeds by 2020:

  • a regulatory approach implemented by secondary legislation; and
  • a proposal by BT to deliver the service voluntarily.

The Government announced in December 2017 that it would adopt the regulatory approach. Under this framework, the USO will be demand-led. This means that consumers will have a right to request a connection. A universal service provider will be obliged to build all reasonable requests up to cost threshold (£3,400 proposed).

When will the USO be implemented?

The Government is aiming for the USO to be in place by 2020 at the latest. Secondary legislation is expected to be laid before Parliament in early 2018. Responsibility will then fall to Ofcom to implement the USO using a mix of technologies that meet the minimum specifications. Satellite connections are unlikely to fulfil the additional quality parameters, but will probably be the only option for some consumers (approx. 0.2%).

Worcestershire County Council continues to extend superfast broadband service to as many Worcestershire premises. The proposed USO will not impact on the programme's current and future aspirations of becoming a 'Connected County' but will provide a safety net for those outside of the current scope. 

Full details of the Government’s response to the USO design consultation are now online (here).