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BT Issues Report on Progress Against the UK Broadband USO

Friday, October 30th, 2020 (4:52 pm) - Score 2,112
10Mbps UK Broadband USO

UK ISP BT has just issued their first biannual report on the progress they’ve made toward delivering the 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband, which highlights some of the known challenges. Overall they’ve so far handled 9,000 applications and 512 confirmed orders, resulting in a USO build for 4,000+ homes.

The USO, which was introduce in March 2020, is generally aimed at those who can’t yet receive a 10Mbps+ capable service and aren’t currently planned to in the near future. At present under 2% of UK premises (590,000) fall within the USO’s scope (falling to c.180,000 premises if 4G and fixed wireless technology is included), but a big chunk of that last part is still too expensive for even the USO to handle.

NOTE: BT estimates that there could 100,000+ premises where the costs of a USO connection will be significantly in excess of the industry £3,400 contribution, even when costs are shared between neighbours.

Despite this we have recently reported on various examples (here), where people have been hit with quotes for excess costs that run from tens of thousands of pounds and all the way up to well over £1m. Often this has been exasperated by issues of mixed messaging and inconsistencies in the quotes themselves. Suffice to say that the accuracy of BT’s quotes and how they’re pieced together has come in for a lot of scrutiny.

Ofcom has since launched an investigation into the issue (here) and the Government’s Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman, has also called on both sides to find a “resolution” (here). Easier said than done.

The USO Report

Overall BT’s new biannual report doesn’t add too much to this debate, although it does acknowledge the known problems and provides a useful overview of how many people are engaging with the new obligation. In the first six months of the scheme BT has seen nearly 50,000 visits to the USO section of their website, resulting in over 9,000 applications for new network build.

We were able to refer most of these applications to existing products or already planned network builds that could meet their needs,” said BT. As a result the operator has seen 512 confirmed orders from end users so far (a single order could bring service to a larger community), and in response they are currently building USO connections that cover over 4,000 homes.

Some of the key stats can be found below and you can get the full context here.

bt broadband uso statistics October 2020

The report goes on to acknowledge the problem where some customers have been left “understandably frustrated at being quoted significant sums to be connected … We know there is room for improvement in how and what we communicate in these circumstances,” said the operator.

BT said they’re now working to “help better set customers’ expectations of what the USO programme might mean for their specific circumstances through our initial engagements” and they’ll also aim to be clearer on what other options may be available beyond the USO, such as via Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnerships (CFP); although these too will often run into similar cost problems.

However, of more interest perhaps, is the fact that BT are now developing a “simple solution to enable customers to share costs above the £3,400 industry contribution amongst their neighbours who would also benefit (where there are other nearby households that will share the upgraded infrastructure),” which is something that the initial implementation failed to do.

Under the above approach, customers will retain the legal right to trigger network build themselves (by paying all costs above £3,400), but will also be given the opportunity to meet the costs together with others. In our view this is how the scheme should have worked to begin with, but in fairness it is quite tricky to organise this sort of co-operative approach.

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“As the designated provider of the Government’s USO scheme, we’re committed to connecting as many premises as we can. While only a small number have completed USO installations in the 6 months since launch, it’s worth highlighting that there are more than 4000 USO fibre builds taking place right now, as well as a few hundred thousand that have been identified to be connected via 4G. We’ll also be increasing affordability for USO connections soon by offering communities the option to split the cost among neighbours.

However, for the more remote 0.5% of properties the high cost of a connection via the USO scheme may still be unacceptable, to which we urge Government, Ofcom and the industry to come together to work on alternative solutions, with the goal of figuring out ways to connect the hardest to reach places. We want to make sure no-one is left behind. Options could include alternative technologies, such as satellite (including exploration of the potential role of OneWeb) as well as more clarity on funding via the Government’s £5bn funding for rural full fibre.”

Much as we’ve said many times before, the big challenge for the USO was always that it wouldn’t be able to solve the problem for everybody, due to some unavoidably high costs (the biggest issue being that final 0.5% of hardest to reach premises).

BT points to possible solutions via Satellite and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technologies, although none of the commercially available satellite solutions today can meet the USO criteria (this is good because the current generation are rather poor) and BT doesn’t offer a true bespoke FWA product itself.. yet (beyond 4G mobile cover). Future LEO satellites (Starlink, OneWeb etc.) may help, but they’ve yet to prove themselves for this task in the UK (maybe by 2021/22).

The operator also points toward the Government’s forthcoming £5bn investment to ensure that every UK home can access a gigabit-capable connection (the target for achieving this is now unclear, after originally being set for the end of 2025). But a recent report from the National Audit Office (here) poured cold water on that by saying the final 1% of premises (e.g. the same sort of area as the USO) “could be prohibitively expensive to reach.

The search for a truly universal solution to better broadband continues.

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Mark Jackson
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.
Leave a Comment
27 Responses
  1. Avatar Rural Fermanagh says:

    So only 5 customers are having to pay for the USO?
    I am guessing myself and 4 others.
    Ofcom opened an investigation, and the Government’s Digital Infrastructure Minister got involved for 5 customers?
    The does not sound correct. I will contact Matt Warman and the local press to determine if there are more than 5.

  2. Avatar Fastman says:

    rural

    please read the report confirmed orders – so out of 512 orders placed 3 have had to contribute (that may have been a few pounds or a lot more) meaning 509 were under the 3400 threshold that did not require a contribution- those 512 orders covers 4000 premises

    the above is based on 50,000 visits to the USO section of their website, resulting in over 9,000 applications for new network build.

    1. Avatar Rural Fermanagh says:

      @Fastman: So would I be right in saying, I am probably one of the hundreds/thousands who were told that they need to pay £60000 to £1 Million towards the USO, which very few could afford, and therefore do not get recognised in the numbers?

    2. Avatar Fastman says:

      the numbers which the five includes i understandare based on placing orders — i assume you have not placed orders – i assume you also not covered by any other plan are heavily rural

      have you done anything with your local communty to see if there are any options for your community and is your area specifically challenged that your community could assist with the civils (ie an area of lots of no duct would impact the cost enormously

  3. Avatar ianh says:

    I know two people who live in very urban areas on small new build estates surrounded by virgin media and BT FTTC who get 1-2mb internet. Upon applying they are told to jog on and get a 4G dongle. Surely these are the cheapest houses to upgrade!?

    1. Avatar Fastman says:

      they should working together with the rest of there estate to do sometimg that covers all of the development rather than doing something indivually on their own – it would be a much better answer

    2. Avatar Jay says:

      They might be some of the cheapest to upgrade but if they can receive 10Mb on 4G they don’t qualify for the USO.

      Simples.

    3. Avatar A_Builder says:

      If they are the cheapest to upgrade they will be in someone’s commercial scope?

      As @Fastman says if you have a large % of ducted estate what will sign up then investment from OR or Alt Net will follow.

    4. Avatar Fastman says:

      or if they are not in a commercial scope (regardless of the location) doing something as a collective will always be better than doing something on your own

  4. Avatar GNewton says:

    “we urge Government, Ofcom and the industry to come together to work on alternative solutions”

    To translate: The beggar BT wants more money from the taxpayer.

    The whole framework of the USO and telecoms in general has been a farce in the UK, allowing multiple telecoms to build last mile fibre networks to the same premises in easy to reach towns, digging the same roads multiple times, and at the same time neglecting harder to reach premises.

    You have to wonder how this country ever managed to build other utilities like electricity on a wider scale. Something is fundamentally wrong in this country.

    1. Avatar Fastman says:

      Gnewton

      you mean it did not provide you what you wanted so it must be rubbish then ?

      USO is hard and expensive thats why there not a plethora of operators falling over themselves to sell it –

    2. Avatar The USO Facts says:

      @Fastman: It does not provide many people who ACTUALLY need the so called ‘legal protection’ of the USO with anything except a large financially crippling bill.
      9000 requests with 512 being called out as accepted = 5.6%.
      This leaves 94.4% are not ‘legally’ helped, or are referred to a BT 4G offering, which is an unreliable technology in most rural locations, overpriced and data limited to 100GB per month and probably not available in rural locations at consistently or stable speeds above 10Mbit.

    3. Avatar GNewton says:

      @Fastman: You don’t get the bigger picture here. Seriously, how did this country managed to build a nearly nationwide power grid, yet is unable to build a widely available fibre network?

      The whole telecoms framework needs to be re-addressed here. It’s time to get rid of the “Can’t Do” culture in this backwards place.

    4. Avatar Fastman says:

      Gnewton

      you will probably find that some of the USO premises that have eyewatering figures are the same premises that are no mains water or mains electricy or proper sewage systems and have taks in garden – as you are well aware over 95 or more have access over 30 m/bps as part of commercial and BDUK – .

      this stuff is hard and expensive and complicated as people are beginning to find out

    5. Avatar The Facts says:

      @GN – BT wanted to build a fibre network in the 80’s but were stopped by the government as the cable TV companies were starting and did not want fibre being used for video.

      How would you address this now? Would you remove Code Powers to all but one company in an area?

    6. Avatar FibreFred says:

      “Seriously, how did this country managed to build a nearly nationwide power grid”

      The government built it with tax payers money

    7. Avatar gerarda says:

      @fastman Every property I know of which gets under 10mbps has mains water, electricity and indeed telephone. The sums being asked to extend FTTP a few hundred metres along existing poles are ludicrous.

    8. Avatar The Facts says:

      @FF – and the government built the telephone network until about ~1985.

    9. Avatar Aled says:

      I’ve always found it unusual that rural properties don’t just Bury some pipe through the fields and be done with it. Why pay £50k for someone to dig a trough through your own field?

  5. Avatar AnotherTim says:

    In my locality most if not all neighbours have abandoned ADSL2+ for 4G. The USO website tells us that we are not eligible for USO as we can already get >10Mbps from ADSL2+ (originally it suggested 4G but changed a few months ago). BT give the speed range as 2Mbps-10Mbps, with a guaranteed speed of 2Mbps (so upload well under 1Mbps), but yet that apparently satisfies USO. So I suspect that many sub-USO properties are being turned away without registering in the statistics at all.

    1. Avatar A_Builder says:

      That is very interesting.

      That being said if you did get a sub standard ADSL connection and could prove it was sub USO standard and there was no 4G that gave USO performance then surely you would be entitled to an intervention?

      Have you raised that with your MP as it is a obviously statistical fiddle as we all know long ADSL lines tend to get towards the bottom end of spec IRL.

    2. Avatar The USO Facts says:

      @A_Builder: Then when you enter the proces you get told it will be £60,000.
      The “Legal USO” is worthless when it is going to cost you 2x the UK average salary.

    3. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      Fortunately we can get an above USO 4G connection – and that is what the USO checker used to say. It now claims the ADSL2+ is above 10Mbps and meets USO (mine was just on a good day, other neighbours weren’t) – but upload of course didn’t meet 1Mbps. So they have changed the interpretation of the eligibility – which I suspect will mean lots of people with sub-USO connections won’t be considered eligible.

    4. Avatar A_Builder says:

      @AnotherTim

      Yes, but……

      My point being, to quote the late fictional Jim Hacker “Humphrey, this is shocking we need to reduce these figures…..”

      Later on Jim expresses surprise when it turns out that Sir Humphrey has literally just reduced the figures “I am not a mind reader, Minister”

      My feeling is that is what has happened here so a bit of political intervention might makes things a bit more honest. Broadband is a hot political topic anyway and with LockDown #2 about to come in: only more so.

      Step one is always to get honest accurate data so that scale of the problem is a known as opposed to a Rumsfeltian Unknown Unknown.

      Politicians are fond of Unknown Unknowns as this enable Can Down The Road Thinking as it is “so complex”

      Then solutions can be scoped on the basis of the real data.

      If the data is rubbish then the interventions will be rubbish and worse my throw off commercial scope which is the last thing anyone wants right now.

    5. Avatar James Band says:

      A_Builder

      Precisely. Equally, making the average broadband speed faster has been achieved by re-qualifying what is termed as “fast” thus increasing the number of people (the figures) who have fast broadband.

      To paraphrase Sir Humphrey from another episode, “Everybody knows that you could half the problem overnight. Cut off all subsidies to any ISP, or network operator who doesn’t build a full fibre connection to every property they operate in two years. Frankly this country can have as fast a fibre deployment as it’s willing to pay for. And no politicians have got the guts to do anything about it!”

  6. Avatar Fastman says:

    gerada where about then arer you referring to – ? are we back in brightlingsea

  7. Avatar Dave says:

    They’ve been exacerbated. Not exasperated…

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