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BT Make Changes to Improve 10Mbps UK Broadband USO

Thursday, May 6th, 2021 (12:20 am) - Score 2,568
10Mbps UK Broadband USO

UK ISP BT has issued their second biannual report into the progress they’ve made toward delivering the 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation for broadband, which reveals they’re building USO connections that cover nearly 5,000 homes and have introduced a new cost sharing system to help communities afford an upgrade.

The USO was officially introduced in March 2020. The measure remains aimed at those who can’t yet receive a 10Mbps+ capable speed and aren’t currently planned to in the next 12-months. Ofcom states that 189,000 UK premises (0.6%) currently fall into this gap (i.e. those outside of both fixed line, fixed wireless and suitable 4G mobile coverage), but a big chunk of that is still too expensive for even the USO to handle.

NOTE: BT estimates that, based on future upgrades, the USO gap will shrink to under 100,000 premises. However, for many of those in this final 0.2%, the cost of a USO connection will be significantly in excess of the industry £3,400 contribution (end-users have the option to pay excess costs or decline the USO solution).

Last year we reported on various examples (here) where people had been hit with quotes for excess costs that ran from tens of thousands of pounds and all the way up to £1-2m. Often this has been exasperated by issues of mixed messaging and inconsistencies in the quotes being provided by BT themselves.

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

The USO Report

The latest report provides an update on the USO’s progress and highlights some changes that have been made (we’ll come back to the latter after BT’s stats). Overall, it states that, in the first year of the scheme’s operation, BT has seen nearly 100,000 visits to the USO section of their website, resulting in over 18,000 enquiries from customers (USO applications) – this has doubled since the last report in October 2020.

BT said they were “able to refer most of these applications to existing products or already planned network builds that could meet their needs,” although they’ve also seen 931 confirmed orders from end-users and in response are building USO connections that cover nearly 5,000 homes (up only slightly from 4,000 homes six months ago). You can see more stats below or get the full context here.

NOTE: It can take a long time for a request to be turned into a new network deployment, particularly after the impact of COVID-19, so actual delivery is currently low.


What’s New?

Once again BT’s report acknowledges that “some customers have been understandably frustrated at being quoted significant sums to be connected,” which partly stems from the unavoidably high costs of deploying new fibre optic broadband infrastructure into some of the most remote parts of the UK. Like it or not, there’s no cheap fix if you want full fibre.

To put this another way, in some places it would literally be cheaper to build somebody a new house in a better-connected area than to run a new fibre line to them. The Government’s new £5bn Project Gigabit programme similarly warned that those in the final 0.3% would be prohibitively expensive to reach (here) and they’re now consulting on how to resolve this (we expect new wireless networks and LEO satellites to be options).

At the last update we noted that BT were also developing a cost sharingoption” for their USO quotes, which is something that their initial implementation failed to do. In simple terms, this would allow communities to “crowdfund and share the excess cost of a broadband network upgrade“. In addition, if more than 70% of premises in a cluster register their interest, a contribution of an “additional £3,400 per premise” is included, lowering any excess costs that the community may have to pay.

A trial of this cost sharing method was run in January 2021, and we’re pleased to see that it was then fully adopted in March 2021. On top of that BT claims that, over the past 6 months, they’ve “improved our processes, so we now see fewer responses beyond the 30-day target and a reduction in complaint numbers compared to the first six months of the scheme.”

Finally, in terms of the 4G based mobile broadband solution that BT (EE) offers to most USO requests, they’ve since removed any data usage caps, “so customers can enjoy unlimited connectivity at an affordable monthly cost” (they also, if required, provide and install an external antenna to ensure that the 4G service in the area provides the best possible experience).

Ofcom is due to publish the provisional conclusion of their BT USO investigation very soon, although nobody should be expecting the regulator to break out a magic wand for resolving the inherent cost obstacles here. Instead, they’ll probably highlight the latest changes to the scheme, as covered above.

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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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40 Responses
  1. haliangyaymooyay says:

    Improve upload speed one time.

  2. Tim says:

    Let the altnets solve this problem.

    BT doesn’t want to anyway and has dragged its feet for 20 years refusing to improve broadband for Rural homes.

    1. The Facts says:

      Altnets did not respond to request to provide USO.

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      Ofcom struggled to get many alternative networks to show a serious interest in taking on the extra legal and financial responsibilities that would come attached to USO delivery. Some, like Hyperoptic, showed more interest than most, but ultimately they all fell away.

    3. Michael says:

      I got rid of bt 2 years ago and my line now I have Airfibre 100D 40U bt was 10D 1.5U lol. Little too late for bt as fibrus are all over northern Ireland putting lines in and poles bt is done

    4. AnotherTim says:

      A leading award winning Altnet was awarded the BDUK contracts in my area for completion by the end of 2018. Still no date for when it will be available….
      Altnets are not always an answer.

    5. Alex says:


      Good one.

  3. CeredigionMan says:

    BT/OpenReach have let the whole country down with their approach to rolling out FTTP. I can’t understand the business model and only now SEEM to be getting their act together as more and more ISP spring up and can do what OpenReach has failed to do over many years, provide a decent broadband service.

    With the size of the business I can’t believe BT moan about the cost of reaching remote properties, as a collective are we all not paying enough to cover the cost?

    1. Meadmodj says:

      Whilst BT/OR may be criticised for not switching to full fibre earlier there has been no obligation until the USO to provide broadband. Other providers and technology exist so why should a commercial company cross subsidise when they are subject to competition in an increasing majority of the country.

      The reason we have Altnets springing up is the cost of GPON technology has fallen sharply and they can drive a medium term return by being more flexible than the larger providers like OR/VM. However Altnets will only go where there is a good chance of take-up to cover their costs. That is unlikely to cover the isolated homes referenced here.

      It is the Government/Devolved Assemblies that set the mechanisms (BDUK, Vouchers etc), the USO definition and maximum amount of subsidy for these isolated homesteads.

    2. 125us says:

      Without the legal cover of a USO, they would be breaking competition law if they sold FTTP in rural areas below cost. How could local or regional altnets compete against Ooenreach’s deep pockets if they just discounted a service that cost thousands or tens of thousands of pounds to install for £20 a month?

      Broadband in Britain has improved vastly because of competition. The laws that enforce that competition are important.

    3. GNewton says:

      “Broadband in Britain has improved vastly”

      Are people still so naive here to believe this nonsense?

      This backwards country has mostly been an utter failure with regards to fibre broadband. Even after more than a decade, only roughly 1/5th of this country has access to fibre broadband. The truth is, commercial telecoms are not able to solve the problem with the digital divide here. A completely new strategy is needed, and fibre broadband needs to be regarded as an essential utility, like water or electricity.

    4. Value for Money says:

      @GNewton The progress (subsidised) is ~40k fibre paths and cabinets, (~5m premises passed) and ~550k FTTP at the edge of the network (97% coverage) with another 438k under contract to do (98.5%+ coverage). More is possible, but progress is progress.

      This is likely to put rural UK top of any rural league if it is measured.

      The B-USO was an ill-timed mistake and encouraged English LA’s to stop rather than being forced to complete upgrades using monies owed. English rural counties would benefit from a further 200k premises being put under contract.

      Boris Johnson got it wrong last March when he said the network would not cope. It has worked well, just frustrating for those who could have benefitted if there was more transparent process and more could have been done earlier.

      The pace of full fibre will be driven by the delta on demand for >100Mbps from those already on 30-80Mbps and the premium folk are willing to pay. Converged Services will demand a huge re-think on spectrum policy and there is little sign of that happening.

    5. CarlT says:

      ‘A completely new strategy is needed, and fibre broadband needs to be regarded as an essential utility, like water or electricity.’

      Indeed. At a time when the UK is building FTTP faster than any other developed nation let’s tear up the current roadmap, bringing the builds to a screeching halt, and spend years producing an NBN strategy.

      Mr Newton is really going to lose his mind when he realises that there are properties not connected to any mains water or gas and what he demands for Internet access, not just connectivity but full-fibre, is stronger regulation than any of the other utilities.

      Have to love people so desperate to spend other people’s money unnecessarily.

    6. GNewton says:

      Let’s stick to the facts here:

      The number of households living off the electricity grid in the UK is estimated to be at between 75,000 and 100,000 according to OfGem. Around four million households live off the gas grid, many of them in remote or rural locations.

      There were estimated to be 27.8 million households in the United Kingdom in 2020. Of these, around 4/5th have no access to fibre broadband, far more than those off e.g. the electricity grid.

      The plain truth is that this country has been doing badly with regards to fibre broadband utility, it is many years behind of where it should be, thanks to many past wrong policies, and incompetences by past governments and telecoms.

    7. CarlT says:

      Yes, let’s.

      Full fibre isn’t required to access the Internet. Various alternative products can provide indistinguishable experience.

      Until such a point as there are no alternatives your fixation with a disruptive and short/medium-term counterproductive nationalisation of broadband provision is absurd.

      Given that the private sector is presently building as fast as is feasible it’s even more ridiculous.

      Change the record. You are correct about being late to the game, hindsight is wonderful, your suggested solution is absurd, your timing is poor.

      Taxpayers have far higher priorities for money right now than building out full fibre to places with gigabit access via hybrid networks.

      There are no people to build networks faster right now. Heavy government intervention would only bring current build, that’s not being paid for by the taxpayer, to a screeching halt.

      Let the private sector build, supplement where they aren’t, ensuring that strict criteria to claw back are in place.

      Nationalisation needed doing before Virgin Media, CityFibre and Openreach went on a high fibre diet. Too late. Water under the bridge.

    8. JmJohnson says:

      “Various alternative products can provide indistinguishable experience.”
      Maybe for the standard individual user who just visits some websites and uses email.
      However you’re over looking that generally a household is comprised of multiple users…
      gaming is on the exponential rise, imagine using the internet on a 10Mbps connection whilst your sons PS is downloading the next 100GB Warzone update which tends to be monthly.
      Well they can use Starlink if they need more bandwidth you may say… well that extra 20-40ms latency may not seem a lot but when you factor in server tick rates then that can be the difference between winning and losing.
      So no… there aren’t Various alternative products that can provide an indistinguishable experience.
      NOTE – I don’t agree with nationalising internet access. Our current process is showing progress and yielding results. I just disagree from a technical and use case perspective that there are suitable alternatives that are indistinguishable from FTTP.

      FTTP is the best of all. Bandwidth, latency, stability (packet loss, jitter etc).
      Whereas the alternatives, at best, excel in only 2 of the above.

    9. CarlT says:

      I was referencing full fibre versus everything else, not just a basic 10/1 service.

      Mr Newton’s desire is for the taxpayer to fund overbuild of everything including Virgin Media’s HFC network.

      This is ridiculous.

    10. GNewton says:

      @CarlT: You keep posting the same replies. Your constant admiration for the current situation is noticed, but in the real world customers don’t want to have organize campaigns just to get a fibre broadband utility, as you did in the past. For large portions of this backwards country there won’t be fibre in the foreseeable future, and this digital divide needs to be addressed.

    11. CarlT says:

      It’s being addressed.

      Remove blinkers, take some Prozac.

    12. CarlT says:

      No idea why you fixate on what happened in the past, either.

      What was delivered by the campaign doesn’t qualify as fibre broadband in your eyes.

      It was also 9 years ago.

      It’s your right to live in the past and preach doom, I prefer the present looking to the future.

      You get pushback because your proposed solution is moronic, your justification for it is nonsense, and you appear to be living in the early 2010s.

      If you actually had any idea what you were talking about you’d understand what a bad idea it would be to nationalise right now.

      What’s happening right now is overdue. I’ve made that statement more than once. Doesn’t change that it’s happening.

      Easy to snipe from the sidelines and expect the taxpayer to spend whatever it takes but those of us living in the real world and paying significant amounts of tax would prefer to let the private sector foot the bill as much as possible.

      The way you bang on anyone would think Openreach gave you PTSD and you can’t stop reliving those times before you had good Internet.

      Hire a crane, get that massive chip of your shoulder and get a grip, man.

    13. 125us says:

      The global analyses often published on this site all show the U.K. comfortably in the top 20% of countries in the world, which is far from any claims about us being far behind everyone else.

    14. GNewton says:

      @CarlT: Calm down, there is no need to become angry or offensive here at other posters who happen to disagree with you.

    15. GNewton says:

      @125us: Respectfully disagree, see e.g. articles published on ISPReview such as https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2020/09/uk-falls-to-47th-out-of-221-countries-for-average-broadband-speed.html

    16. NGA for all says:

      @Gnewton, on rural UK is much higher compared to EU peers, but overall UK is behind as you say. BT withdrew FTTP for the most part in 2013 until 2017. – CMS SC inquiry 2016 triggered Ofcom, and so there is much catch up needed. G.fast FTTCdp all expensive distractions.

      Some of the new upgrades will be hindered by over reliance on FTTC, ‘FTTC cure’- copper re-arrangement will be a curse for those beyond 1200m in rural.

    17. FibreFred says:

      Same old same old from Newton.

      All I ever see is people disagreeing with you, not agreeing.

      After all of these years has the penny not dropped?

      And in other great news (for me). Fibre went onto my serving pole two days back and they were splicing today.

      So looks like I will be going from fttc to fttp in the coming weeks. And I’m not even in the Fibre first programme.

    18. CarlT says:

      You mistake exasperation for anger. I’m not angry with you, Mr Newton, the prevailing emotion is pity, for many reasons.

      I can’t imagine rocking up here on specific articles to write the same things and refusing to pay any attention at all to anything others write.

      Maybe get a blog to rant on if you are so disinterested in dissent?

    19. 125us says:

      47th out of 221 is 21st percentile. I’m not sure a single percentage point makes much difference. Britain is clearly a global leader in broadband. If we’re 47th out of 221 I’m sure you can work out how many countries have worse provision.

    20. Buggerlugz says:

      ““Broadband in Britain has improved vastly”

      Are people still so naive here to believe this nonsense?”

      ABSOLUTELY. That’s a key over-selling strategy of BT, how else would it flog its god awful FTTC product?

    21. GNewton says:

      @Buggerlugz: “how else would it flog its god awful FTTC product?”

      For the simple reason that fibre broadband simply isn’t available for the majority of this country?

      It’s just sad to see how some posters here resort to an offensive language on this forum.

  4. Matt says:

    Fulfilling the USO with overpriced and unstable 4G is unacceptable in my opinion. The obligation should be to provide 10mbps+ fixed line broadband. They were not permitted to fulfil the old telephone line USO with mobile phones, unless I am mistaken.

    1. CarlT says:

      The old telephone USO doesn’t exist anymore so it’s academic where we were when it was still a thing.

      The 4G USO product is not standard.

      I would be fine with people being allowed to reject 4G as a USO option as long as they were then provided costs over the 3.4k limit for the fixed line alternative.

    2. Peter S says:

      Matt – I totally agree,

      The criteria for classifying “ Decent Broadband” is a joke and needs to be urgently updated. As I understand it, a broadband service offering speeds of 10 mbps, costing £46 p/m with a data allowance of 100GB p/m currently qualifies as “decent”

      I believe the average UK household with fixed line broadband uses at least 300-400 GB p/m and this is only set to increase further.

    3. Matt says:

      CarlT – exactly, I used past tense when referring to the old USO, specifically as a comparison between the old and the new..?

      I’m not sure what you mean by “4G USO product is not standard”. My parents get 5mbit ADSL, but when I put their details into the USO website, all it offers is 4G with no options to go any further. In reality their 4G coverage is so awful they wouldn’t even get 10mbit using the supposedly USO compliant 4G option.

    4. CarlT says:

      ‘Finally, in terms of the 4G based mobile broadband solution that BT (EE) offers to most USO requests, they’ve since removed any data usage caps, “so customers can enjoy unlimited connectivity at an affordable monthly cost” (they also, if required, provide and install an external antenna to ensure that the 4G service in the area provides the best possible experience).’

      Not a standard package available on the regular websites.

    5. Guy Cashmore says:


      Interesting on the EE USO 4G package, not heard this before and as you said no details on the web. Any idea how much they are charging for this monthly?

  5. Gareth says:

    I don’t think that BT should be able to use the availability of 4G as an excuse for not providing decent broadband under USO.
    Firstly 4G broadband isn’t always available because of over subscription in certain areas.
    Secondly there are questions about the reliability of 4G broadband.
    Thirdly there aren’t many unlimited 4G broadband packages available at a reasonable cost.Many of the limited packages don’t provide enough data.

    1. Guy Cashmore says:

      Our 5 year experience of 4G (and no other connection) here in rural Devon has been that it is far more reliable than the long line ADSL it replaced. Especially bad weather, the ADSL became so unstable it was unusable, the 4G is totally unaffected by weather despite us being 5 miles from the mast. Yes I agree better packages are needed, especially from EE, but otherwise 4G can be a perfectly good solution until fibre arrives.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      @Guy, I agree, as a 4G user working from home I have found it remarkably reliable and resiliant (ironically, apart from today as they are “upgrading” my local mast so I’m back to ~2Mbps). It is also cheaper than my previous ADSL2+, with a £27+VATpm unlimited business SIM.

    3. Rural Broadband says:

      Ofcom show a complete lack of competence by allowing a very limited and expensive 4G as a USO. I have tried 4 different 4G providers (all using a dedicated router and roof antennas), the most recent provider being EE as their website said I can get ‘UP TO’ 30Mbit *cough* bullsh1t *cough* . With EE I get downstream speeds of between 2Mbit and 20MBit and high latency spikes which frequently disconnect my VOIP and Work VPN. I cannot get any work done on the EE 4G, so I therefore have to use my 4MBit ADSL, which is much more stable.

  6. Winston Smith says:

    The satellite option, as mentioned in the article, would surely be the best option for the most isolated premises.

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