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Ofcom and BT Adopt Changes to Help 10Mbps Broadband USO

Thursday, November 11th, 2021 (11:35 am) - Score 4,920
10Mbps UK Broadband USO

Ofcom has today finalised the changes that were first confirmed in July to improve how BT handles delivery of the UK’s Universal Service Obligation (USO), which aims to bring faster broadband ISP speeds to those who can’t yet receive a 10Mbps+ capable download speed and aren’t planned to do so in the near future.

We’ve already covered this topic and the changes extensively before (summary), so on this occasion we’ll just cut right to the chase. In short, some of those who applied to request a USO connection from BT have faced a number of problems with poor communication, unreliable cost quotes and others were also asked to pay materially higher amounts than they should have been (e.g. some of those who initially requested the USO were footing a big chunk of the bill for everybody else).

Back in May 2021 BT revealed that they’d moved to improve their processes and communication. Furthermore, they also introduced a new cost sharingoption” for their USO quotes (here), which enabled communities to “crowdfund and share the excess cost of a broadband network upgrade“ (preferable to lumping all the costs on to the first accepted quotes / homes).

In addition, if more than 70% of premises in a cluster register their interest, a contribution of an “additional £3,400 per premise” was included, thus lowering the excess costs that a community might have to pay (it’s very tricky to get this kind of thing right). On top of that, the 4G solution that BT shipped in response to most other USO requests was upgraded to include unlimited data (some people can also get an external antenna installed, if necessary).

Ofcom’s proposals in July largely put what BT had already done – to improve how the costs of USO connections are calculated and or shared between properties – into the rules. But it also made a few other clarifications and changes too, which have today been formally adopted.

The regulator recognised that BT had agreed to change its approach for quotes where the cost of connecting a property is not significantly above the £3,400 threshold. BT also agreed to refund affected customers and re-issue quotes it has previously provided.

Ofcom’s Final Statement

• Where excess costs are very high, BT can wait until it has agreement to cover the total excess costs before commencing build.
Where the excess cost per premises (that is, the calculated cost per premises minus £3,400) is more than £5,000 (excluding VAT), BT can wait until it has agreement to cover the total excess cost including all the shared network costs before commencing build rather than commencing build where one customer is willing to pay the excess cost for their specific premises.

One or more customers can cover all the excess costs of the build, but we expect that very few customers will be willing to pay more than £5,000 (excluding VAT) to receive an upgraded broadband connection under the USO. This change is therefore likely to have a very limited impact on customers but will reduce the risks on cost recovery.

• No changes where excess costs are £5,000 (excluding VAT) or below. Where the excess cost per premises is £5,000 (excluding VAT) or below, BT must provide a connection if the customer agrees to pay the excess cost.

Crucially, this won’t solve all of the much more complicated underlying problems with areas that are simply far too expensive to resolve via the USO (e.g. some people have been quoted hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds). At a certain point, the value for money side goes well out of the window and keeps on running.

Like it or not, the cost of deploying Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) infrastructure into some extremely remote rural areas can be insane, which is an unavoidable reality. Such barriers cannot easily be swept aside by good intentions or small tweaks. Indeed, in some cases it would literally be cheaper to build somebody a new house, in a better connected area, than to run a new fibre line.

Nevertheless, the changes that BT and Ofcom have made should still result in a number of customers receiving lower quotes in the future. Meanwhile, the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme has similarly warned that those in the final 0.3% would be prohibitively expensive to reach (here) and they’re consulting on how to solve this (we expect new wireless networks and LEO satellites to be options).

On the other hand, BT may find the new approach to be quite challenging. Likewise, there is a risk that the new approach to shared costs could cause some confusion for those who apply for the USO after the fibre has been run down a street or lane, following the first customer request (i.e. some of those who apply later might not realise that they still have to pay their share of the USO cost for delivery, which could be hefty).

Ultimately, time will tell how much of a difference this makes, and Ofcom has pledged to continue monitoring BT in order to ensure that the original concerns are addressed.

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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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33 Responses
  1. Martin says:

    It is crazy in 2021 there are properties that have a broadband connection of less than 10mb/s using a landline.
    I know of someone that is only getting 6mb/s using FTTC, because when they were connected, Openreach used a cabinet around a mile away down the bottom of a hill on the main road. But there is a copper PCP and FTTC cabinet 20-30 meters away from their house on the opposite side of the road.
    It’s a shame Openreach didn’t originally connect the line to a closer cabinet because the property is only just over 20 years old.

    1. Talon says:

      It is really quite insane! My connection in rural North Norfolk tops out at 1.5Mbps. BT quoted over £100,000 to connect me, yet a local provider has found a way to run FTTP to me in a way that works out to be cost-neutral to them!

    2. martin says:

      Talon, this property is also in Norfolk as well but it’s not that rural and I guess many more are like it in the location.
      That seems the issue in many parts of Norfolk even though major improvements are happening with large scale FTTP builds being rolled out via Altnets in many towns now.
      Openreach’s FTTP build for many places in Norfolk are still going to take another 5 years if they are on the build list.

    3. Disgusted of Dankshire says:

      @Martin
      I agree, its a farce.
      The problem is that the organisations that rolled out the BDUK scheme, paid for with public money, failed to understand the laws of physics and base their plans on postcodes and not distance. There are over 1.5 million on less than 24Mbs, aka as Super Slow
      The other issue is OR refuse to move a line to a closer FTTC cabinet.
      Now we see a convoluted slow roll out of FTTP, by the same organisations, really gives one confidence.

    4. Joel says:

      I am own getting 3 upload and download 10
      Keep asking BT openreach installed fiber

    5. Connor Graham says:

      I have a friend living in a large village with his FTTC cabinet practically outside his house but since BT cheaped out when the build was done and used aluminium instead of copper cables he can only get around 20mbps.

    6. Fastman says:

      disgusted

      The other issue is OR refuse to move a line to a closer FTTC cabinet.

      Openreach will not move premises from one cabinet to another for improvement of broadband experience. nor is Openreach allowed to increase line length to force premises to purchase fibre — if that nearer cabinet is routed in a different way back to the increase and the line length increases you worsen all the copper lines — that is outside of Openreach condition of licence and cannot be allowed to happen , you would also be discriminating against copper only Communication providers by forcing the premises in question to purchase a fibre service from another communications provider (again another no no)

  2. GNewton says:

    What amazes me are the claims about the high costs of running a fibre line to a remote premise. How on earth did they ever manage to build a copper line to that same remote premise in the past? Could there be some lessons learnt from past deployment techniques?

    1. The Facts says:

      Totally funded by the taxpayer as the Post Office was a government department. All phones were black.

    2. anonymous says:

      Now why haven’t Openreach or their contractor partners thought of that?

    3. GNewton says:

      That was a serious question. Is it really that much harder to deploy a fibre line along existing ducts or poles than a copper line? As regards taxpayer funding: That’s the case both with rural fibre and past GPO copper deployments, so this is nothing new.

      Were past deployment projects more efficient?

    4. Mark Jackson says:

      Lots of historic differences on areas of red tape (regulation, safety etc.) and other things too, such as labour costs, standards of work required and network complexity. It’s a difficult thing to simplify when trying to compare delivery costs between one era, in a very different market, and another.

      But remember, it’s not only the cost to build, it’s the cost to maintain and the return on your investment that are important too. The latter is particularly difficult in sparse communities where you’re running fibre a long way just to serve a handful of premises over a wide area. Social build models, like B4RN, can sometimes skirt around this, but commercial models (e.g. Gigaclear) do struggle and hit problems.

      None of this is unique to the UK.

    5. GMorris says:

      What does Openreach do with the overhead copper wires when they break? Could they not put in combined copper/fibre replacement cables and then connect up the fibres when all the old copper only cables are replaced. It may take a long time but are they really just going to put in copper replacement cables forever?

    6. Just a thought says:

      When POTS is withdrawn the copper broadband will have to be fast enough to support voice so I guess 1Mb will still work. What happens when copper is withdrawn will all these remote premises loose phone service too?

    7. NE555 says:

      > What happens when copper is withdrawn will all these remote premises loose phone service too?

      The last vestiges of copper won’t be gone until well into the 2030’s. Because of the USO, Openreach can’t just turn it off. They will be required to provide alternative service – which might be by laying FTTP, or might be via 5G (or 6G or 7G…)

    8. AnotherTim says:

      To get rid of copper they just have to wait until people stop using t through choice (as I have) – then when someone wants a connection in the future the USO will kick in and it will be unaffordable, so there’s no need to replace the copper and therefore no expense.

    9. FibreFred says:

      I can’t believe this was actually posted!?!

  3. owitney says:

    It’s funny. I love in a South East town with a population of 125,000. I live a 20 minute walk from the centre of town.

    I get 12Mbps. FTTC is a joke.

  4. Gareth says:

    I live in the middle of Brighton and get 4-5 Mbps on a good day. Virgin in area but not offered to my flat. The whole USO has been so diluted in Openreach’s favour, it’s a joke. BT made massive profits when it was privatised and continue to do so. In areas where they have no competition they are a monopoly and don’t bother in improving the infrastructure.

    1. Fastman says:

      Garth

      so go and ask virgin to come cover your area then

  5. ORbit says:

    I’m glad they fixed the 4G solution to include unlimited data – the cap they suggested before was looney tunes – and did not seem to fit with the intentions of the USO.

    I honestly think the vast majority of people either won’t be able to, or won’t want to give thousands to OR for upgrades. but at least 4G/5G is becoming a workable alternative now in some places.

    There’s still a misconception that all these slow connections are in extreme rural areas. There are vast numbers of OR’s Exchange Only Lines in cities/suburbs with no outlook on fibre connection due to the (apparent) complexities of their installation.

    1. bob says:

      Hi,
      You are correct there many E/O feed premises, all around the country, as you stated they are not all in rural areas,large numbers are in highly dense city area’s, I been one of them, feed off Birmingham Woodgate (CMWGDT),
      I like you, thought there is no chance of fibre, as we are told its too complex to install.
      But to my total shock a fleet of vehicles turned up, installed footway boxes, cleared blocked ducts,installed poles, them ran fibre all over the place, Under Ground, Overhead.
      I am now served by fibre, and on walking around Woodgate and also Harborne Exchange areas, OpenReach are fibring up at a mega rate.

    2. ORbit says:

      one day hopefully, you never know! I’m in South London and there are tons of flats and small estates in the same situation along with wayleave complexities. It is a bit frustrating when you have houses literally meters away on the fibre network. At least I’m lucky that the 4G/5G network is at a workable speed here and you get a choice of providers.

    3. Chris Owen says:

      Yes, it’s good they removed the cap, but beware of the increased cost of 4G.
      The next village to here has fibre and they pay about £21 per month. But for us they have refused fibre, and want £44 per month for their 4G.
      Apparently this is approved by Ofcom.

    4. AnotherTim says:

      @Chris, if you can get a 4G USO solution, then you can get unlimited EE 4G for significantly less than BT will charge if you install it yourself.

  6. Anonymous2 says:

    I get 6Mbps in Somerset, 1.6 miles from the cabinet. BT and USO team fobbed me off at every opportunity. I can’t get 4G so that’s not an option. Their response: I have to sign up to a 4G contract to prove that I can’t get 4G!

    1. HR2res says:

      I suspect that, like me, a number of people looking in here would “kill” for 6 Mbps. Believe me, you are well off in comparison.

      I’m one of the south Herefordshire residents about to be officially de-scoped because Gigaclear-off messed up when they bid for the fttp contract 3 years or so ago and now find it too difficult and expensive to complete what they contracted to do.

      I’m between 5 and 6 km from the exchange, and on a very good day I can get 2 Mbps down my copper line; but more generally it’s around 1.6-1.8 Mbps (with EE). My near neighbour, around 200 m nearer the exchange than I am, is lucky to ever get much above 1 Mbps (BT). Go figure. Worse than these low maximum speeds is the need to reset the router multiple times a week when ping times drift/jump towards 300-500 ms.

      Crazy figures have been quoted locally for meeting the USO prior to this announcement, but I might now try out that route myself, especially as they may look at utilising 4G to meet the USO. Then again… On a good day I can get a mobile signal indoors (varies from E to H/H+), but good days are a bit hit and miss and I often cannot get even E. When I stand on my roof I can get 5-10 Mbps down (-110 to -120 dBm) on those good days, with up varying between about 0.01 and 2 Mbps. It’s not my phone that’s incapable, as near the centre of Hereford I can get around 60 Mbps down with an almost symmetric up speed. So the question then becomes whether the extra outlay required to get at least 250-300 GB data/month to replace a generally working unmetered copper product with a more expensive probably sometime/frequently flakey mobile product that is not actually much faster than what I already have is actually warranted. So far the answer has been in the negative.

      And to those thinking I could use an external high-gain aerial, that is true; but I’d likely lose any gain achieved with that aerial with the cable run required to get to the modem/router. And to those who are then thinking I could combine a high gain external aerial with an external modem, I’ve thought about that too. But the extra cost to get a decent bit of kit is a hell of an outlay with no guarantee of actually getting a decent LTE signal even then.

      Hmph! I was looking forward to subscribing to Gigaclear’s 300 Mbps service until Gigacleared off.

      Would I move to get decent broadband? No. I’d rather stay where I am, even if I could only get fax/dial-up speeds. I suspect I’ll have to wait for Starlink or OneWeb, but given the price of Starlink’s beta service I might well have pegged it before I dip my toes into their airwaves.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      @HR2res, cable run losses can be avoided by using a mast mounted external router, and unlimited 4G contracts are available (I pay ~£32pm for unlimited business 4G with EE). I find it cheaper and much better than ADSL2+ (while I’m waiting for Gigaclear…)

  7. AnotherTim says:

    The USO only exists so that Ofcom can claim there is a solution for those with poor broadband. It doesn’t have to provide broadband, just an excuse. Job done.

    1. Fastman says:

      another tim

      thats complete and utter rubbish

      USO is hard and horrible and complcated that why only KCOM and BT are doing it]

      no altnet offered to bid for USO did they ?

    2. AnotherTim says:

      My point is that very few people can realistically get better broadband via USO. Many have sub-USO broadband because they are on EO lines or very rural, and the cost of providing better broadband is prohibitive. USO doesn’t address that – it just gives the excuse of the cost being too high (assuming the customer can’t afford tens of thousands) so there’s nothing to be done. Anyone complaining about poor broadband is just pointed at the USO. It isn’t a solution to poor broadband, it is a solution to people complaining about poor broadband.

    3. Tinbum says:

      Why would someone take up BT’s USO as it’s so expensive and their are other cheaper 4G solutions. I for one don’t want to sign up for a 24 month contract when I’m pretty certain I won’t get 10Mbs. Our landline does well to get 3Mbs, we live 3 miles from a town and they won’t go the extra 400m to connect us up to FTTP that they are about to install. We were down to be connected but then they changed their mind. I’m appalled.

  8. GaryH says:

    With all the scope surveys up here in Scotland for R100 I’m wondering when someone’s going to actually make the data available for those in the ‘too expensive to bother with’ bracket.

    I’m rural and R100 happily told me I can have a 5 grand voucher, not sure what I’m supposed to do as an individual with 5k when R100 don’t think I’m viable for Openreach to do.

    Same with the UK gig proposal, people in limbo with no idea if or when they’re even going to be included.

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