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A Curious Case of 10Mbps USO Eligibility in Existing FTTH Areas

Saturday, February 8th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 11,905

The Government’s new 10Mbps+ Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband is due to start next month, although for some ISPs Ofcom’s approach to eligibility has created a few puzzled faces. As a result some people may live in areas covered by a 1Gbps FTTH ISP, yet still be able to request the USO.

The USO is of course primarily intended to serve digitally disadvantage areas where no such connectivity exists (i.e. speeds of less than 10Mbps), which Ofcom currently considers to reflect the final 0.5% of premises (155,000 properties). This is largely due to the obligation being watered down to include 4G based mobile broadband services, otherwise it would rise back up to 610,000 premises (here). However there’s another caveat in this.

At issue in this article is the fact that the USO imposes a maximum cost cap of £45 per month (inc. VAT), which is calculated to also incorporate connection fees over the course of the contract period. One often overlooked facet of this is that if your area is already served by a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP), or other superfast broadband network, but that service costs more than £45, then technically people in the area could still optionally request the 10Mbps USO from a supporting provider – BT (or KCOM in Hull).

Just to reiterate that point. People who only have access to a service priced over £45 per month will also have the right to request a USO connection, regardless of whether the current fastest local network is already able to deliver significantly faster speeds. So you get the choice between the USO or simply paying more than £45 for the existing service, which could be much faster. We can appreciate why this is done but sadly it gets even weirder.

The real quirk here occurs because Ofcom requires that £45 to also include connection fees over the course of a contract. Put another way, if you did like B4RN use to do and offered customers a 1 minimum month contract term at £30 per month for unlimited 1Gbps with a one-off £150 connection fee, then the regulator would effectively say you’re charging £180 per month, even if that’s only for the first month.

As a result people covered by B4RN’s 1Gbps network could still choose to request the 10Mbps USO from BT. Not that you would, but the choice exists and yes, that does sound a silly (some might call it a waste of money) when an affordable full fibre network is already present. The ISP can of course get around this by adopting a 12 month term and averaging the total costs over that or offering a cheaper but slower tier, yet forcing ISPs to scrap monthly contracts in this way is not a particularly pro-consumer move.

As it happens most such ISPs have already had to adopt 12 month terms, even before the USO arrives, because that is a requirement of the Government’s separate gigabit voucher scheme(s), which many providers are currently harnessing. Likewise altnets often adopt long contracts to help off-set the cost of their network builds. Nevertheless it’s worth highlighting quirks like this as such caveats can easily be overlooked and some rural full fibre providers, even with a 12 month+ term, do cost more than £45.

A spokesperson for Ofcom told ISPreview.co.uk that “the idea is to ensure customers do not face excessive connection fees for a service,” which is fair enough but we think they could probably have found a more flexible way of writing that into the rules. We don’t know of many people who would, for example, consider B4RN’s 1Gbps service to be applying “excessive connection fees.” It is in fact deliciously cheap for what you get in remote rural areas.

Leave a Comment
46 Responses
  1. Tim says:

    How/where do you check if your home is eligible?

    1. AnotherTim says:

      I think the question is “When” – I expect where and how will become apparent in a month or so.

  2. TheTruth says:

    Where is Chris from B4RN when you need a comment?

    1. chris conder says:

      According to B4RNs contract it is a 12month one, so over 10 months it would cover the connection fee and still be under £45 a month?

      “4. The minimum period of contract is one year from the live date, but there is no early exit penalty”.

    2. A_Builder says:


      That brought welcome clarity and information to this discussion.

  3. John says:

    Interesting, too far away from the exchange to get Fibre over copper, ADSL2 gets me 8MB (but only 2MB guaranteed) but exchange is FTTP enabled, so based on that I could invoke USO and force BT to give me FTTP. Or am I missing something?

    1. AnotherTim says:

      Do you have a ≥10mbps 4G signal? If so that’s what you’ll get with USO

    2. joe says:

      You’d get 4/5g. But if your exchange is fttp you might get fttp as the commercial rollout happens over the next 5 years or so.

    3. John says:

      Well that’s a turn up for the books, those slimey gits at BT now say I can get 10mb on BT.com.

      Yet on the BT Wholesale checker you get

      WBC ADSL 2+ Up to 5 — 3 to 7.5 Available

      No wonder I stopped using them.

    4. AnotherTim says:

      When you say BT say you can get 10Mbps, where did you get that info from? even if you could get 10Mbps you’d also need 1Mbps upload for that connection to meet USO – and that won’t be the case with a 8Mbps (or even 10Mbps) download.

    5. John says:

      I went on to BT.com, presented myself as a new customer and went through their what we can provide routine and it presented a 10mb package as being available, I declined to sign up so did not go further.

    6. ClosedReach says:

      BT have been running that scam for a while so watch out – they advertised the higher speed (I see 11Mb) and then when you check through they award you with their amazing ‘average speed gaurantee’ of 2Mb down and close to 0Mb up. So you end up locked into a full priced 18 month contract with no re-course, another amazing OFCOM rules win.

  4. ianh says:

    If ofcom really think there is only 155k houses on <10mbps they are in a for a heck of a shock. I know tonnes of people who live in very urban towns and cities that get less than that. BT just havent bothered with a lot of cabs.

    1. Simon Heather says:

      If they live in a very urban town or city then their 4G will be more than 10Mbps so won’t be counted as part of the 155K houses.

    2. Adam says:

      4g isn’t exactly reliable in populated areas.

    3. Meadmodj says:

      Indoor perhaps but outdoor is fine. Many will simply just need paddle aerials but there are options
      1) External aerial (favoured by EE trials in 2018)
      2) Move 4G Router to loft space and cable down (personally found very effective)
      3) Purchase an external 4G Hub (good ones still rare in UK) and ethernet cable down with PoE

      All these options are already available now for those within 4G range. Whilst mobile providers do not promote an aerial option currently local independent companies for TV/Dish will readily fit.

      BT needs to retain its revenues and therefore will be hessitant to introduce products that could distort their markets either short term or long term. The BT aim will of course be that when OR FTTP reaches people that they will want sign up to a high speed and telephony services from them.

      In 2018 EE were trialling and BT announced a proper hybrid product (not Assure backup). Since the original fanfare all has gone quiet. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=2ahUKEwjN2PuPz8TnAhX0QRUIHYUDADwQFjABegQIChAF&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DjuR_Ti-gPyk&usg=AOvVaw3_iDdx31GZVmcxdHI9azKW

      BT has had the technology in reserve for over 18 months now and has the purchasing power to bring the unit cost of a hybrid router with balancing within range. If they retain ownership (like they will be with new hubs and TV) then they may now be able to introduce such a product for those that are technically under 10Mbps.
      Hybrid is currently available in Germany https://youtu.be/JDBzlkpDAJ0 and may be the next big step in the UK fuelled by the USO demand.

      However there are a lot of people still under 10Mbps that are in FTTC or WISP areas who can easily upgrade to exceed the USO but if BT do launch a ADSL/4G Hybrid they may then move on to a FTTC/5G hybrid product which would certainly provide high resilience for those destined to be on FTTC for next 10 years.

      All depends on the numbers and whether BT sees a hybrid or the mobile broadband only product as the best bet to retain customers until OR FTTP can get to them.

    4. Meadmodj says:

      Apologies. Cannot find any current German tariffs for a hybrid product. May have been discontinued.

    5. osewaninaru says:

      Deutsche Telekom Hybrid costs depend on the speed.
      16 Mbps DSL : 34,95 €
      16 Mbps DSL + 16 Mbps LTE: 34,95 €
      16 Mbps DSL + 50 Mbps LTE: 39,89 €
      16 Mbps DSL + 100 Mbps LTE: 44,90 €
      50 Mbps DSL + 50 Mbps LTE: 39,95 €
      100 Mbps DSL + 100 Mbps LTE: 44,95 €
      (“16 Mbps DSL” is meant as “anything between 384 kbps and 16 Mbps depending on the line length.)

      Basically, Telekom does not charge a dime extra for the LTE upgrade if it is the same speed as your DSL. They try to rent (9,95€ per month) or sell (399,99€) you an expensive Hybrid router but you can simply opt to buy one yourself on ebay for <40 Euro.

  5. Meadmodj says:

    The best site currently is simply BT.COM (more technical sites available). Check availability and it gives a reasonably accurate minimum speed by premise when displaying the guaranteed speed range. Also use 4G coverage maps assuming indoor coverage means practical outdoor coverage.

    The Universal Service Provider (BT) will be checking eligibility and can add other publicly disclosed data (BDUK, New Build, Altnet, VM etc) including Mobile coverage. There are already databases such as TBB etc but this needs to be at premise level not postcode. Whether it is branded BT, OR or other we will see but it is unlikely they will want to advertise that say CityFibre is in town so its more likely to simply indicate if >10Mbps is available or not. Don’t expect too much.

    The main issues will be:
    Where people are experiencing 10 can be supported opening up the old chestnuts of old NTE, old devices and customer wiring with history.
    Where there is an alternative coming but it is not visible due to non disclosure, price variations or simply time lag on updating data
    Where an alternative such as VM, CityFibre etc but where those providers have chosen not to provide to specific properties within the Post Code (even if currently shown on their web site)
    Where an alternative is available but the customer declined involvement in B4RD or other community initiative.

    If Ofcom really cared they could probably consolidate the data themselves and write out to each of the effected premises. They may be anticipating a slow ramp up but I recon this will hit the news and spread on social media.

    My main concern is the opportunity for scammers and door knocking rogues. I just hope Ofcom/BT handle this correctly.

    1. Meadmodj says:


      “Where people are experiencing 10 can be supported”
      should have been

      Where people are experiencing >10 but >10 is technically supported”

    2. Meadmodj says:

      Where people are experiencing >10 but <10 is technically supported”

  6. AnotherTim says:

    One problem with eligibility for USO will be with the availability dates for some of the BDUK rollouts – if superfast is planned to become available within 15 months, you won’t be eligible for USO. However, from my experience the BDUK planned dates are wildly inaccurate, and in my area we have no dates, just “soon” (the same as it has been for 6 years) so I’ll be interested to see whether “soon” will be enough to rule me out for USO.

    1. Meadmodj says:

      BT are not obliged to act immediately (only registering and interest) so there is 12 months in which such plans can be confirmed which by March 2021 they ought to be. BT OR are already well aware of the USO property clusters and will make plans even if they delay them in case there is a possibility of direct subsidy (outside the still unconfirmed USO funding model).

      However you are right that Ofcom could/should be far more active by insisting on mandatory detail for any initiatives whether BDUK or commercial and regardless of provider.

  7. NE555 says:

    The obvious solution would be to say that the total of connection charge plus 12 months’ service charge must not exceed 12×45 = £540.

    I cannot think of any FTTP networks which do not offer some level of service within that price limit – and B4RN’s old pricing would have met that test.

    B4RN’s old pricing was actually in the consumer’s favour. When you amortize the setup cost with the monthly charge, the consumer ends up paying the connection charge over and over again if they continue to use the service.

    With mobile phone contracts, providers are now being made to drop their prices at the end (i.e. once your handset is paid for). And yet, ISPs are allowed to make substantial *increases* in monthly charges at the end of the contract. Very strange.

    1. Fred says:

      Truespeed’s lowest tier is £47.50. I am sure there are others. I think it is a good thing as it will provide competition and other options. Where I live most folks would be able to claim USO

    2. NE555 says:

      Good spot. And Trooli is £50 for their lowest package.

  8. Andy g says:

    I live on outskirts of Exmouth in Devon, population 50,000, the best I can get is a download speed of 2.2mbps & upload 0.6mbps so i can only dream of 10mb which is probably what the people living near the exchange in the centre of town get yet I have to pay the same as them, rip off springs to mind

    1. joe says:

      You’ll be sorted soon with any luck.


    2. DLS says:

      Where are you Andy? If you register your interest with Jurassic Fibre, you will receive updates.

  9. Deena says:

    Hi Tim,which area u at?

    1. AnotherTim says:

      I am towards the southern end of Fastershire lot 3c – Gigaclear have the contract, but are somewhat behind plan – except that they haven’t had a plan for over year, as after the previous plan was abandoned in autumn 2018 they were supposed to come up with a new one by the end of January 2019 but haven’t even managed that yet.

  10. JT Scotland says:

    It would be useful if you could do an article on the process for exercising our rights under the USO as opposed to the above irrelevant distraction

    Its surprising that something that is imminent does not have a website or explanation of the process for initiating the request

    We get max 0.5mb connections so desperate to kick off this process

    1. JT Scotland says:

      …and we dont even have a plan-for-a-plan so fall off the edge of OpenReach’s intention to improve our service via fibre

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      “as opposed to the above irrelevant distraction”

      It’s not irrelevant to a site that is dedicated towards covering the broadband and mobile industry. As for the process of using / accessing the USO, there’s not much point in writing about that until it begins next month. Hopefully Ofcom, BT and KCOM will be able to confirm a specific web page / phone number for handling it on launch day.

    3. Meadmodj says:


      As highlighted in the contributions above don’t expect too much. If you are dependant on ADSL only (no 4G) you are more likely to be within one of the publicly funded schemes and isolated USO requests may be above the cost threshold. Any OR FTTP activity would take time to plan and execute.

      “Consumers will be able to make requests for connections from 20th March 2020.

      Once a consumer or business requests a connection, the Universal Service Provider will have up to 30 days to confirm if their request meets a set of eligibility criteria, including whether the estimated cost of that connection falls under the £3,400 cost threshold. If it meets the eligibility criteria and is estimated to cost less than £3,400, the connection can start to be delivered straight away.

      If the cost is estimated to be over the threshold, and the customer would still like to proceed, the Universal Service Provider will carry out a full survey and provide a detailed quotation to the customer within 60 days.

      If the customer decides not to pay the excess costs, they can consider commercially available satellite broadband (outside the USO scheme).”

    4. John Turner says:

      @Meadmoj Thanks for the response and useful to understand the start date for submissions and expected turnaround period required by OR…but have a query

      We do not have a published speed. Not unreasonable when we’re connected to an Activate Exchange which only ever had a max of 0.5mb

      I understood that the USO required OR to examine the cost of providing a 10/1 service with an upper limit of £3,400 but then could refer these costs to OFCOM to see if they could be reclaimed from ‘an industry fund’ or the ‘provider itself’ but no reference to the homeowner paying the difference

      (All info from the previous ISPReview article https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/11/ofcom-consult-on-funding-for-the-10mbps-uk-broadband-uso.html#comment-212862 )

      I was not aware the OR would be coming to me and my neighbours for the difference if > £3,400

    5. Michael Clarke says:

      Me too – I’ve been searching in vain for two months about how to actually apply for the USO on 20/03. The start date is 11 days away as I write this and no BT staff that I have contacted know anything about it. I asked OfCom, they said phone BT, they knew nothing so I filled in an online complaint form, the reply from this was “nothing to do with this department please call BT Customer Services”, who knew nothing about it either. Pass Go again but do not collect £200!

      When the scheme opens on 20th I shall call BT Customer Services at 8am when they open although I fully expect to be told they know nothing about it once again.

      OfCom appear to be a typical quango, and about as much use to consumers as a chocolate teapot, and BT appear to have more silos than the USSR used to have!

  11. ClosedReach says:

    I think BT/Openreach are hoping to use 4G/5G as the excuse to do nothing. Unfortunately they would be breaching the USO conditions on Contention Ratios and Latency as they would not be ensuring quality of service…

    Quote from USO text:
    “5 The technical specification of the USO include download sync speed of at least 10 megabits per second; an upload sync speed of at least 1 megabit per second; a contention ratio of no higher than 50:1; latency which is capable of allowing the end-user to make and receive voice calls over the connection effectively; and the capability to allow data usage of at least 100 gigabytes per month.”

    None of these things can be technically guaranteed on a 4G network in a city, especially if you suddenly flood an antenna with families using 4G routers.

    I would love to know who came up with the 100gb a month download limit, the average household will use more then this and be forced to pay extra for more expensive 4G data add-ons. This would mean BT would then be breaching this part of the USO text:

    “USO customers will pay the same prices as the rest of the UK. Universal Service Providers must offer connections and services at the same prices as equivalent services they offer to non-USO customers. BT has also committed to offering at least one broadband connection and service that meets the USO specification at no more than £45 per month.”

    So maybe it’s time to back away from the whole 4G con and actually do the grounds works and line rearrangement that Openreach are paid to provide?

    1. Meadmod says:

      When considering the USO and those on sub 10Mbps service these customers do not consume much data as they currently can’t. Standard ADSL prices have been rising so the price step to better broadband speeds could be minimal.

      The USO can only be regarded as short term politics “we are doing something”.

      Ofcom probably hoped that more providers would have come forward but they didn’t. The proposal from BT to utilise 4G is based on the practical solution to ADSL users in the short term. Yes BT will take the opportunity to identify USO clusters, the related subsidy and combine these with commercial uplifts however they have also taken on the risk. OR are currently running at 30k per week on FTTP but that is concentrated on new build, programmed roll-outs and committed contracts. They will divert resource to USO but to expect widespread FTTP based on USO alone will not happen.

      The USO definition has in my opinion been set specifically (with consultation) so that it is easily achieved by alternatives and at a specific price that will encourage take up of a service higher than the USO, not undermine current revenues and promote more commercial investment.

      “Openreach are paid to provide” but that’s the point it is going to take some form of cross subsidisation and time to provide every premise that has long lines. If resource/materials were unlimited then BT could jump on the upto £3,400 available but the Government would have to stump up the money and I doubt they want to spend much on the USO if they can get away with it.

      BT will know where the USOs are and where their mobile masts are so as demand increases they can focus 4G capacity. The benefit to BT of course is that they may increase or retain their customer base particularly if the product is still linked to the landline.

      Yes 4G coverage can be patchy but with a proper external antenna outdoor reception coverage should be more than enough to meet the USO specification and for most much more.

  12. ClosedReach says:

    I agree this should not be on a single ISP to fix, BT or otherwise but equally charging the few consumers who have been excluded from the fibre network thousands to fix it is unacceptable. That’s a postcode lottery.

    4G coverage is not the issue for me – it’s contention at busy times that causes slowdown. I have a proper external antenna it doesn’t avoid this issue. If you thought traffic management was bad on a fixed line – wait until you are on a 4G router in South London!

    We are all paying the price for short-sighted planning and an addiction to laying out copper cables decades after we should have swapped to fibre but the rearrange work to at least get everyone onto FTTC needs to be done as a priority.

    It makes a big real-world improvement to peoples lives to shift from hopeless 2mb solutions to FTTC 30mb+ and should be prioritised. How many people with 40-50Mbs connections are complaining they need 1000Mbs? Which online services do you know and use that actually have the ability/need to serve you data at gigabit speeds? It’s just a way to goof the statistics while ignoring the problem.

    As far as “the USO can only be regarded as short term politics “we are doing something”” nope it’s “We are doing nothing”.

    If you’re on an EO line check Ofcoms web-page to see what speed it says you’re on. It will be a fictional speed (sorry the maximum sync speed that is provided by Openreach) so they can pretend you don’t qualify for USO anyway.

    To be honest I give up – I apologise for living on a road that’s on an exchange line and expecting to receive a barely passable service for the decades of line rental I’ve paid to open reach. I’m clearly in the wrong on all of this.

    1. Meadmodj says:

      There are probably around 4% of properties still on EO lines. A glimmer of hope is that there will be a reasonable number under the 10Mbps that will mean that OR may use FTTP as the solution. By installing multi fibre cables then that makes the passed lines more attractive commercially so its the logical path. There are issues how the line rental is calculated but the actual OR costs are quite low and telephony has always been a national cross subsidy. You can criticise BT for not moving quicker in the past but now with its revenues falling its no longer the case they can simply upgrade in urban without it being commercially justified.

      If you look at the maps VM coverage looks good for South London but clearly it is not. Ofcom really should get a handle on the real data at premise level and publish the correct picture of actual.

      Another issue with the USO is that it is dependant on end users registering. So if your request is the only one in the street it could exceed the threshold. I doubt BT will be allowed to self identify USO qualifying properties as Ofcom will not want the USO cost (however paid) to rise, particularly in urban where they are wedded to market driven. So we need to get the message out there so as many sub 10 register as possible.

      Short term mobile masts are on top of the exchange buildings so upgrading capacity to cover EO should be feasible and use MVNO mechanisms to control speed/service. In addition Merton, Croydon and Bexley are now on OR FTTP list and they tend to follow a contiguous plan. Other Altnets are also arriving in patches so you are more likely to get FTTP before some.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      mobile masts on top of the exchange buildings may be an option for some urban areas, but won’t help the rural EO lines at all. I’m a mile from our exchange (a modest shed), but others with EO lines are much further away.

  13. Meadmodj says:

    The latest summary from officialdom 29th January 2020. Nothing new so we still await detail from BT.
    Funding currently assumes BT will fund from within customer pricing, only if it is excessive will Ofcom step in. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&ved=2ahUKEwj9raOvzMznAhWqgVwKHVtJCK8QFjAHegQICRAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fresearchbriefings.files.parliament.uk%2Fdocuments%2FCBP-8146%2FCBP-8146.pdf&usg=AOvVaw19pIFVwpxno2dF7pnOCD19

  14. ClosedReach says:

    Well that certainly reads like a license to fail. It’s just pages and pages of get-out clauses.
    Ofcom – “the average family uses 190gb a month.” Where did they sample their data from, Wetland areas?
    Government – “if we use an even more fictional measurement, we can set the limit at 100gb!”
    That’s great thinking and super future proof – good job guys (facepalm).

    This was the intention behind the changes:

    “USOs aim to ensure that a minimum set of communications services are available to everyone at a fixed location, upon reasonable request, and at an affordable price,
    irrespective of where they live, in order to prevent social exclusion.”

    Except OFCOM have delivered the exact opposite, the consumer fronts the bill for fibre if you’re on EOL’s (as it’s over the cost limit) or you have the choice to be relegated to a 2nd class 4G service, where you will also front the bill for excess data charges. Please somebody prove me wrong, because I’ve got a bad feeling I’m right. It’s like they’ve set-up a two tier punishment system for people who have endured enough.

    They need to rip this up and start again, legislate against exploiting consumers who are not culpable for OR’s legacy network issues.

  15. RM says:

    Seems like another nonsense scheme to me. I just got a USO estimate back from BT with an approximate cost of £50,000!

    This is despite there being overhead fibre cables and marginal 3G/4G signal at the roadside of our property. They told me that they wont consider mobile internet under USO – only fixed infrastructure.

  16. Harry Barker says:

    Hmm, so the USO is supposed to avoid excessive installation charges? A number of our village have applied for a
    USO quotation – several who have already received a response (some during the initial brief phone call to BT) and all were quoted “around £20,000 to £30,000”. That’s for each house!
    Openreach have previously quoted for the whole village – under £90,000 – or £750 per property.
    So either BT are totally inept or it’s corporate deception and manipulation of the USO legislation, set up with no intention of ever carrying out any USO upgrades. We’re waiting for their response as to which it is.
    Other households were told:

    they weren’t eligible – some with speeds of under 1Mb.

    their address didn’t exist, they didn’t have a BT account , even though they’ve been paying BT for phone and broadband for several decades.

    They weren’t eligible as there were other services available – completely wrong.

    Or some elderly residents were kept on the phone for well over an hour, being passed around the country to different BT offices.

    The indications are that at least one industry big player is failing to work to the new government recommendations, flaunting the legislation and continuing to offer atrocious broadband speeds, while seemingly charging neighbours a variety of different prices for the same service, in the knowledge that they currently hold a monopoly in the area.

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