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Consumers Back Calls for a Universal Service Obligation on Broadband

Monday, March 9th, 2015 (7:12 am) - Score 1,501

The recent discussion over whether broadband should be added to a legally binding Universal Service Obligation has prompted us to conduct a survey, which found that out of 1,445 respondents some 71.5% supported the idea of imposing a USO on BT (or KC in Hull) to deliver fixed line broadband speeds of at least 2Mbps to all.

The Government and BT are already working towards making superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds available to 95% of the United Kingdom by 2017 and a plan is also being worked on to tackle the final 5%. In the meantime there’s a somewhat conflicting Universal Service Commitment, which pledges to ensure that everybody can access a basic broadband speed of at least 2Mbps by early 2016.

Sadly the USC is not legally binding like a USO and at present Ofcom’s related rules only mandate that BT and KC deliver, following the “reasonable request of any End-user“, a telephone service that includes the ability to offer “data rates that are sufficient to permit functional internet access” (here); technically that could include ancient dialup.

However support for the idea of introducing a broadband USO suffers a significant hit once consumers are asked to help pay for its introduction. Imposing a USO could increase the cost of service delivery because operators might need to hire additional engineering staff, improve support and conduct further network development.

Should the UK impose a legally binding Universal Service Obligation (USO) on BT to deliver fixed line broadband speeds of at least 2Mbps to all?
Yes – 71.5%
No – 20.6%
Maybe – 7.8%

Would you accept a small increase (i.e. around £1 per month) in the price of your broadband in return for a USO?
No – 49.8%
Yes – 40.7%
Maybe – 9.4%

Would you accept a larger price rise (i.e. +£2 to £3) if the USO pledged a minimum speed of 10Mbps?
No – 45.9%
Yes – 42%
Maybe – 12%

Clearly there are positives to introducing a USO and other countries have already gone down this road, much to the annoyance of various telecom operators. At the same time there’s always the risk that introducing such a measure could impact competition and help to entrench the already incumbent providers, which might make it harder for rivals to enter the market.

Never the less we do think that now would be a good time for politicians to start seriously looking at the issue, not least with regards to the potential impact upon service costs and competition. One approach could be for this to be done with a view to reflecting a post-BDUK deployment market, so that the existing infrastructure can be made ready before a USO is introduced.

We suspect that many of the issues with introducing a USO could be solved by taking a common sense and logical approach to regulation, but perhaps that would be asking too much of our political leaders.

Meanwhile this month’s new survey asks whether the quality of an ISP’s bundled broadband router is enough to impact your choice of provider? Vote Here.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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