British telecoms regulator Ofcom has called on interested parties to register their interest in serving as a Universal Service Provider (USP) for broadband, after the government earlier this year passed legislation for a broadband universal service obligation (USO). Ofcom, which is responsible for the implementation of the USO, has published a document setting out its objectives and explaining how it plans to designate USPs to deliver broadband connectivity. The watchdog believes the most effective way to deliver the USO as quickly as possible is for operators to express their interest in delivering the scheme, either on a national or regional basis, following which it will designate provider(s) that are best placed to deliver the USO. While it had considered running an auction to determine USPs, it said that after discussions with providers it had deemed there to be insufficient interest to run an ‘effective’ competitive process.
A closing date of 20 August 2018 has been set for submissions, while Ofcom aims to consult on procedural regulations setting out how its proposes to designate USPs in September – after considering the responses. Following this, Ofcom aims to finalise the designation regulations later in 2018, while also putting forward proposals for who should be designated as a USP and indeed, the Universal Service Conditions which with they will need to comply, again within the same timeframe. The final decisions are expected by ‘summer 2019’.
As previously reported by CommsUpdate, in March 2018 the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published its chosen design for the broadband USO. At that date the DCMS said it would move ahead with implementing the USO by 2020, with the core elements of it including: a minimum download speed of 10Mbps; additional quality parameters which include a 1Mbps upload speed, minimum standards for latency, a maximum contention ratio of 50:1, and a minimum data cap of 100GB per month; uniform pricing, so as to ensure that people connected under the USO do not pay more for their broadband than others pay for comparable services in non-USO areas; and a cost threshold of GBP3,400 (USD4,488) per premise. In addition, while fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), fixed-wireless and mobile technologies can all be utilised to deliver universal broadband services, the DCMS has specified that satellite technology may not, ‘based on its current capabilities’.