Policy sets broadband as basic legal right

19 Mar 2015

The UK government yesterday (18 March 2015) published a Policy Paper alongside its 2015 budget entitled ‘The digital communications infrastructure strategy’ setting out its proposed measures to deliver broadband access speeds of at least 100Mbps to nearly all UK premises. The proposals include the introduction of a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband internet access, replacing the existing USO which includes only dial-up access, thereby establishing broadband as a basic legal right. The government proposes to give residential and enterprise telecoms users the legal right to demand a broadband connection at their premises of at least 5Mbps at a reasonable price, although the policy does not set a deadline for the USO to take effect.

In his budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne also outlined an ambition for a future national minimum broadband speed of 100Mbps – although stopped short of setting a timeline for this target – whilst promising GBP600 million (USD885 million) to help clear new spectrum for mobile internet, funding for Wi-Fi in public libraries, and grants to install satellite broadband in remote rural areas. As quoted by The Guardian, Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance, cautiously welcomed the government’s latest broadband promises, but noted previous unmet pledges while indicating that the initial 5Mbps minimum speed mentioned would be below many rural users’ expectations: ‘Especially for those rural communities that have not been connected so far, it’s a light [at the end] of the tunnel for them …. But what we want is delivery. Rural communities have been overpromised, and transparency of delivery has really failed them. We are very supportive of a universal service obligation, but research shows for everyday uses 10Mbps is the optimum level.’

State-funded rollouts by UK incumbent BT target superfast broadband coverage of 95% of premises nationwide by 2017, and plans announced in the budget are designed to bring coverage to a further 1% of homes using satellite. As stated in the policy paper: ‘Starting with premises experiencing the lowest speed broadband, the government will launch a scheme with local bodies across the UK this year to subsidise the costs of installing superfast capable satellite services.’

In another aspect of the budget, Mr Osborne announced that the government will pledge funds to develop applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) and ‘smart cities’.

United Kingdom