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Ofcom sets date for USO — will it help you get better broadband?

Ofcom sets date for USO — will it help you get better broadband?

Ofcom has set the date for the implementation of its new Universal Service Obligation (USO), which could see thousands of homes and businesses benefit from faster broadband speeds.

Under the agreement, which is part of the British government's 'universal broadband service', everyone in the UK will have the legal right to request a reliable and affordable broadband connection, and it will come into effect in March 2020.

What is the USO?

Under the USO, households must be able to access an affordable broadband connection that can deliver download speeds of at least 10Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1Mbps by next year.

If this is not the case, they will be able to submit a request to have their eligibility for a USO connection checked, with the potential to have their broadband service upgraded if they are not due to receive service from a publicly-funded scheme within the next year.

It is estimated that around 620,000 homes and offices based in some of the UK's most remote locations could benefit from the rollout of the initiative.

Who will implement the USO?

Ofcom has decided that BT will be responsible for connecting properties everywhere in Britain except for Hull, where provisions will be covered by KCOM.

The companies will have until 20 March 2020 to start making the necessary preparations and changes to their systems that will allow new connections to be built, after which the requests will start to roll in.

Once a request is made, BT or KCOM will have 30 days to check whether or not that particular customer is eligible. If they already have good broadband access at an affordable price or will soon be covered by a new connection, the request will be declined.

However, if they are eligible, the cost of providing a new connection will be covered up to the price of £3,400. Should the necessary work go above this threshold, the customer can either pay the difference or seek an alternative like satellite broadband.

Everyone who is connected through the USO initiative will pay the same price as other broadband customers with equivalent connections.

A vital safety net

Ofcom's consumer group director Lindsey Fussell said the forthcoming work is going to be a safety net in terms of better communications infrastructure.

"This will be vital for people who are struggling to get the broadband they need," she added.

Currently, around 95% of homes and small businesses can access superfast broadband with download speeds of at least 30 Mbps.

However, recent uSwitch.com research found 26% of homes are struggling with speeds of less than 10Mbps, while 13% can only manage a paltry 5Mbps.

Two per cent of homes and offices are deemed unable to access decent broadband at an affordable price, the vast majority of which are in remote rural areas that may also be underserved by other infrastructure and therefore feeling increasingly isolated.

Ofcom also found last year that many homes do not have fast enough broadband to cope with what are now seen as a typical family's internet needs, such as watching TV series via streaming services or downloading films.

Indeed, on the very slowest street in the UK with an average download speed of just 0.14Mbps, it would take more than 100 hours to download a two-hour HD film on Netflix, which is likely to be extremely off-putting for many.

Slow speeds would also impact use of sites like YouTube, which the average Briton now spends almost half an hour a day on.

With demand for internet-based services such as video and streaming only set to grow over the coming years, this new initiative being rolled out under the watchful eye of Ofcom could certainly prove to be the safety net many people need to prevent them from falling through the cracks of good broadband service provision.

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