Plans for broadband USO could be reconsidered as BT offers to ensure coverage

31 Jul 2017

British fixed line incumbent BT has offered to ensure that 99% of the UK’s premises are able to access broadband at downlink speeds of at least 10Mbps by 2020, the BBC reports. The telco plans to spend up to GBP600 million (USD788 million) to achieve this goal – with universal coverage targeted by 2022 – which, if realised, could mean that the broadband universal service obligation (USO) which is currently under consultation by the government would no longer be required. BT has suggested it will achieve the 99% coverage level using a range of technologies, including fibre and fixed-wireless, while it noted that by 2022 it expects less than 1% of customers to be receiving broadband via satellite, as opposed to ‘built infrastructure’. Moreover, BT has said it is already well on the way to achieving the target, claiming that 95% of British premises will be able to access speeds of 24Mbps or faster by the end of this year. With regards to the plans, BT Group chief executive Gavin Patterson was cited as saying: ‘Our latest initiative aims to ensure that all UK premises can get faster broadband, even in the hardest to reach parts of the UK.’

For the government’s part, it is now expected to consider whether to abandon the USO in light of BT’s offer. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DDCMS) has reportedly said it will consult on BT’s proposal, with it understood that, if the offer is accepted, it would become legally binding. Culture Secretary Karen Bradley noted: ‘We warmly welcome BT’s offer and now will look at whether this or a regulatory approach works better for homes and businesses … Whichever of the two approaches we go with in the end, the driving force behind our decision-making will be making sure we get the best deal for consumers.’