British telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced that residential and business customers will be able to request a broadband ‘universal service obligation’ (‘USO’) connection from 20 March 2020. The watchdog says that under its new timetable, universal service providers (USPs) will be able to ‘make changes to their systems and processes and prepare for building connections’, and also confirmed that BT and KCOM have been designated as USPs. As such, the two providers will be responsible for taking requests for USO connections and building the necessary infrastructure to deliver them within ‘a reasonable timeframe’, with KCOM appointed as the USP for the Hull area, while BT will cover the remainder of the country.
Under the USO scheme, consumers that are unable to access a ‘decent’ connection – which is currently defined by the UK government as one capable of delivering download speeds of at least 10Mbps and upload of 1Mbps – will be able to request a USO connection. On such a request, USPs will have 30 days to confirm eligibility, and to do so they will check that the consumer’s location: is a home or business; has no access to existing decent, affordable broadband; will not be covered by a public scheme in the next twelve months; and will not cost more than GBP3,400 (USD4,316) to connect. In those instances where the cost does exceed that figure, customers will have the choice to pay the excess costs of installing a USO connection or use an alternative technology, such as satellite, outside the USO scheme. Additionally, Ofcom has noted that those customers that only have access to a ‘decent’ service which is priced at more than GBP45 per month will also have the right to request a USO connection.
Meanwhile, USPs will reportedly be subject to challenging network build targets. Specifically, it confirmed that BT must deliver every USO connection ‘as quickly as possible’ and deliver at least 80% of connections within twelve months, 95% within 18 months, and 99% within 24 months of the confirmed USO order. For its part, KCOM must deliver a USO connection as quickly as possible and no later than twelve months after someone places their order, unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances that make it more difficult’.