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Ofcom Propose BT and KCOM to Deliver 10Mbps UK Broadband USO UPDATE

Wednesday, Dec 5th, 2018 (11:41 am) - Score 4,085

As predicted Ofcom has today proposed that BT and KCOM should be designated as the official Universal Service Providers (USP) for the Government’s new “legally binding” Universal Service Obligation (USO), which from 2020 will make it possible for those in slow speed areas to request a broadband speed of at least 10Mbps.

The USO is expected to focus on catering for the final 1-2% of premises across the United Kingdom that are unlikely to be reached by a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) network come 2020. This is estimated to affect approximately 600,000 premises in 2020 or 860,000 if you were to deploy it today.

The USO is NOT an automatic service upgrade and as such it will only give people the “legal right” to “request” a 10Mbps+ capable broadband connection, albeit only in poorly served areas where no future upgrades are planned to deliver even faster speeds within the next year (required to limit conflict from network overbuilds).

The maximum wait time for such a connection to be installed, once requested and approved, is one year (i.e. often the necessary network will need to be built before you can connect to it). We note that USPs will also have 30 days to make an assessment about whether or not a consumer is eligible for the USO.

USO Specification

* A minimum download “sync” speed of at least 10Mbps (Megabits per second).

* A minimum upload “sync” speed of at least 1Mbps.

* A medium response time with end-to-end latency of no more than 200ms for speech applications.

* A maximum sharing between customers (contention ratio) of 50:1.

* A minimum data allowance of 100GB.

* A technology neutrality design (can be delivered via a mix of fibre based and / or wireless solutions).

A few months ago Ofcom revealed that 5 broadband ISPs had expressed a serious interest in becoming a USP, including Broadway Partners (wireless network), BT (Openreach), Hyperoptic, KCOM (Hull-only) and Quickline (wireless network). After further work the regulator decided that only BT, KCOM and Hyperoptic satisfied all of their criteria, but in today’s update we learn that the latter “withdrew its interest.”

Ofcom’s 3 Step Minimum Criteria

1) That they can adequately finance the delivery of the service and maintain adequate operation of the service between deployment and any compensation.

2) That the proposed geographic coverage area covers more than 5,000 eligible premises.

3) That the proposed technology would meet the technical specification set out in the legislation.

While Hyperoptic provided evidence to meet the preliminary criteria in step 1, we did not consider that we had sufficient information from Hyperoptic to make a step 2 assessment of its ability to effectively deliver the USO. We engaged further with Hyperoptic, but Hyperoptic subsequently withdrew its interest,” said Ofcom.

Essentially this left Ofcom in the same position as they had with their original USO, with BT proposed as the USP for the whole of the UK (excluding the Hull Area) and KCOM covering the Hull area. We should point out that KCOM will have covered their entire network area in FTTP (plus a tiny bit of FTTC) broadband by March 2019 and so being a USP is unlikely to pose any real problem.

By comparison BT has said that they intend to use a mix of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) to meet the USO, which in some areas could be very challenging for them to deliver within the stated time-scales. The expected rush of early requests may only compound such problems.

The obligation is to be funded by ISPs (industry) via a new Universal Service Fund (USF). On top of that it will also adopt uniform pricing (i.e. cost the same no matter where you live, with a maximum cap of £45 inc. VAT a month), have a cost threshold of £3,400 (i.e. you may have to help pay for it if the costs go above this) and support demand aggregation (i.e. multiple properties in an area could help to bring the deployment cost down).

Minister for Digital, Margot James, said:

“I welcome the progress Ofcom have made on implementing the Universal Service Obligation, which now means that eligible consumers will be able to request a connection by the end of 2019. This is all part of our commitment to ensuring that by 2020 every home and every business in Britain has access to high speed broadband.”

Today’s new consultation will close on 13th February 2019. Ofcom then intend to publish their final decision on designated providers and their obligations by early summer 2019. “We expect consumers to be able to make requests for connections from the end of 2019,” said the regulator (i.e. following a 5 month implementation period).

UPDATE 6th Dec 2018

We’ve added a comment from rural fibre optic ISP TrueSpeed, which did not express a serious interest in being a USP.

Evan Wienburg, CEO of TrueSpeed, said:

“Ofcom’s proposal that BT should be the only Universal Service Provider (USP), apart from KCOM in Hull, is bad news for eligible consumers living with inadequate or no broadband. Many of them will then have to wait up to a year just to get connected to an inferior broadband service over BT’s part-copper lines.

Part-copper is yesterday’s technology, and deploying it today is simply short sighted. It will do nothing to reduce the gaping urban/rural digital divide and will necessitate further upgrades to full fibre in the near future.”

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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33 Responses
  1. Avatar photo bob says:

    Good luck with that! Openreach have no interest in delivering broadband to areas that are slow. Ofcom doesn’t have the power it needs to make Openreach do it. Openreach only does anything if there is a lot of money (profit) for them/their shareholders.

    We need the altnets to get the funding and build the networks where the monopolies have ignored for ~20 years!

    We all know if the funding went to altnets suddenly Openreach would say it’s commercially viable and overbuild anyway. The beauty of this is we’d get true infrastructure choice! So Ofcom give the 10Mbps USO contracts to altnets that are building true fibre networks. Trooli, Gigaclear, B4RN and many others … dare I say it even Virgin Media should be offered a slice of the 10Mbps USO!

    1. Avatar photo Joe says:

      They don’t have the interest or the capacity or both.

    2. Avatar photo FibreFred says:

      Funding? It’s funded by ISPs

      “The obligation is to be funded by ISPs (industry) via a new Universal Service Fund (USF). “

    3. Avatar photo TheFacts says:

      Trooli, Gigaclear, B4RN and many others did not apply.

    4. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      The altnets haven’t got the capacity to provide USO – e.g. Gigaclear hasn’t got the capacity to build the areas it is already committed to.

    5. Avatar photo Fastman says:

      bob complete and utter tosh which not a shred of actual faxct ,, I not you have no answkered the question I posed to you the other dya

      As an aside if area don’t complete OMR , expect the programme to make provision made , that no overbuild is a requirement — , B4RN never completed OMR so none of any openreach network is actually overbuild (why is what I assume you are rfereeing to re Altnet and overbuild) as no one advise the Local authority any one else was building. so county did the only option it could based on the information provide by the OMR

    6. Avatar photo Bobs uso says:

      Your embarrassing yourself now Bob. Before posting you should try reading up on things before posting utter bull.

    7. Avatar photo Shakespeare had better broadband than me says:

      Bob is correct, it is only about the commercial viability.
      The BT Monkeys who then came in to discredit bob, doth protest too much methinks.

  2. Avatar photo gerarda says:

    I thought BT had proposed the use of EE for some of the USO coverage

    1. Avatar photo SuperFast Dream says:

      I have no doubt myself that’s a primary reason why BT purchased EE in the first place although I see no mention of Mobile Broadband in Mark’s write up, perhaps it will appear in BT’s final submission to the latest consultation.

    2. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      I think something like EE’s 4GEE service would be ideal for most USO solutions – likely to be >10Mbps down >1Mbps up for the vast majority of USO properties (even if it needs their external antenna), latency likely to be <200ms, and the current deals are £40 for 100GB/month. Also the installation costs should be under £3400, and it could be installed pretty quickly and easily. Seems to tick all the boxes for USO to me.
      The only thing I'm not sure about is whether if 4GEE or similar is commercially available whether USO would even apply?

    3. Avatar photo SuperFast Dream says:

      @AnotherTim I would agree with you. I ditched our ADSLMax product and landline a couple of months ago as FTTC just couldn’t reach us and am running 60Mbps down and 30Mbps up on a Three AYCE SIM. Its a SIM only package which I have married to a 4G SIM based TP-Link Router.

      It’s a world apart from the issues experienced before with the poor service and I have overcome the CGNAT issues by implementing a VPN with Static IP at Router level and I have a UTM sitting behind it handling the traffic management.

      I am actually in two minds as to whether I will ever flex my USO muscles next year and with 5G just around the corner I wonder just how practical the USO will turn out to be.

    4. Avatar photo EndlessWaves says:

      Surely the 50:1 contention ratio requirement rules out mobile broadband in a lot of locations? Many towers presumably peak at more than 50 users contending airtime.

    5. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      @gerada, I’m not exactly sure how contention ratios would be measured on 4G connections, but I suspect that a 50:1 contention ratio on a 10Mbps connection may well work out to the be the same as a 150:1 contention ration on a 30Mbps connection.

    6. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      Sorry, my previous comment was meant to reply to @EndlessWaves

    7. Avatar photo SuperFast Dream says:

      You have a good point. Contention ratio’s for Mobile Broadband seem to be shrouded in a cloud of mystery, unless anyone else can shed light on this, but I certainly think it will benefit a number of USO applications, particularly if they are rural, like me :). Then again if the USO dictates no more than 50:1 then it could be a dead duck or the Mobile Operators may have to reveal all…

    8. Avatar photo SuperFast Dream says:

      Oops, my previous comment was for EndlessWaves too….

  3. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

    Am I being cynical if I suspect that BT is currently only rolling out FTTP in areas which definitely won’t be subject to USO, and leaving areas with low speeds and EO lines alone until USO kicks in, when they’ll get paid for upgrading them?

    1. Avatar photo CarlT says:

      No, just mistaken. Openreach aren’t getting paid for upgrading USO areas. They’re deploying FTTP where they think there’s a commercial case or where BDUK is paying them.

      Exchange-only lines in towns and cities excepted properties that aren’t viable for FTTP are unlikely to have a fantastic commercial case for FTTP. Properties miles from the nearest exchange, miles from the nearest street cabinet and miles from the nearest aggregation node don’t tend to make the most compelling business case for FTTP.

    2. Avatar photo Fastman says:

      USO will be able to be requested / demanded however if you order a telephone service and is costs more that about £3500 then resident / subscriber pays the addion) I expect the USO will work the same way

    3. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      @CarlIT, my understanding that the USO providers will be paid for providing a USO connection – the Universal Service Fund (USF) is for that purpose is it not?
      Whereas they are not paid for any commercial deployments – making it better business sense to ignore USO areas until payments become available under the USO scheme for them.

  4. Avatar photo Tom Bartlett says:

    Looks like OFCOMs DNS is broken.

    Does anyone know if the USO includes IP addresses? Will BT be allowed to put everyone on CGNAT?

  5. Avatar photo Brian says:

    When average usage is now 190GB, the restriction of 100GB would mean a second class service. Its clear that the £3400 limit is too low to upgrade the ‘too far from the cabinet’, so answer is to give restricted 4G routers with lower data limits and higher costs than is available on fixed lines.

    1. Avatar photo wireless pacman says:

      Not sure if the average really is that high, but almost by definition USO will be a second class service. The 10Mbps speed profile will see to that. However, “2nd class” should still be fine for most things, except bandwidth hogging activities like loads of video streaming, massive game downloads etc.

  6. Avatar photo Jigsy says:

    My Internet speed has been increasing lately…

    It’s ended up at 4 Mbps for the first time in nearly two years.

  7. Avatar photo Meadmodj says:

    Other providers had the opportunity and the fact that they did not step up says a lot.

    This is a clear example of politicians promising something and then doing all they can to minimise delivering it. The 10Mbps was selected purposely to reduce the funding liability and is not universal as it comes with the funding cap. Ofcom may consider 10Mbps down/1Mbps up and as “a decent broadband connection” but to consider that for future investment is ridiculous. The lack of a FTTP criteria and allowing BT to utilise other technologies is also a ploy to minimise the funding even if it is to come from other consumers via pricing. The £45 max per month may result in a smaller percentage registering an interest in USO and we will need the cumulative funding allowance to supply to some communities.

    Ofcom claims that this brings broadband “in line with other basic services such as water and electricity” however this USO sounds more like providing homes with a 13 amp extension cable rather than a 70kva feed.

    Ofcom need to be clear how the eligibility of USO will be met. I can think of a number of scenarios it is simply not clear.
    * Those in Post Codes that are claimed to be Superfast but the individual premises within the Post Code cannot for whatever reason achieve 10Mbps speed (very bad FTTC or ADSL only).
    * Those in BDUK projects where the Superfast broadband date is indeterminate.
    * Those in areas covered by Gigaclear/Cityfibre or Wireless ISPs where commercial provision would be too costly and the full USO subsidy would be required by Openreach.
    * Those in areas covered by Gigaclear/Cityfibre or Wireless ISPs where provision by Openreach would be in excess of the USO funding
    * What are Ofcom going to do regarding Gigaclear, Cityfibre, VM etc missing properties out because they are “too hard”

    I have others. Location must not be Post Code it has to be the exact physical location. We will end up with another arbitrating process soon.

    A fairer way would have been to allow providers to access the fund to address isolated premises within an otherwise covered location.

    It still leaves a lot of people in the 10 to 24Mbps wasteland and the assumption that this is all rural/remote is also flawed.

    I will respond to this Ofcom consultation as I have in the past but what do they think they are doing? . Yes Politics/Money.

    1. Avatar photo SuperFast Dream says:

      @Meadmodj Selection by postcode is a mess, even the BTw checker can be fraught with issues, god help us if this is used as a benchmarking tool for delivery in any way.

      I can recall having to bark at BTw for 2 years asking them to correct the BTw checker to reflect the true availability of FTTC for my premises. I was constantly bombarded by ISP’s asking me to switch to the product owing to the good speeds I could get, but I knew I couldn’t owing to being too far from the cabinet.

      An email to Liv Garfield (OR at the time) and a nice chat with the then head of BT NI finally got it corrected, it went from 21Mbps to 1.2Mbps in a heartbeat, it looks like we were ‘pin pointed’ incorrectly on the map. Correct Postcode but incorrect end of it despite using the telephone number on the checker, hmm!

    2. Avatar photo Meadmodj says:

      Eligibility is proposed to use Ofcom’s Connected Nations reports. This is Post Code based. There appears to be no mention of a technical assessment so the only recourse appears to be ADR.

    3. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

      In deep rural areas a single postcode can cover premises that are a mile apart! In my postcode about half the premises can receive 30 Meg from Airband, the others only have slow ADSL available so will qualify for USO. Clearly using postcode only won’t be acceptable here.

  8. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

    The USO specification was clearly written to make delivery by 4G allowable, in rural areas I fully expect it will be the USP’s default option.

    I find it surprising that neither O2 or Vodafone were interested, they both paid huge sums for spectrum, most of which is sitting almost idle in rural areas today.

    1. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      O2 and Vodafone may have paid a lot for spectrum, but they arean’t using it in my area – can hardly get a signal on either network here. EE are now very good, and Three is OK – I’m using Three’s £20/month AYCE for home broadband now (although it isn’t as fast as EE the price is unbeatable).

    2. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:


      Yes same here, 2 meg ADSL EO land line been disconnected 2 years now, was with EE then moved to Three AYCE a couple of months ago. Voda and O2 are missing a trick, good signal on both but no suitable packages available..

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