DCMS finds new option for superfast broadband

Department launches consultation on proposal from BT for alternative to regulatory approach to universal service obligation

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has claimed progress in its effort to provide fast broadband across the UK with a proposal from BT Openreach to take a more proactive approach to providing a 10Mbps service as part of the universal service obligation (USO).

Abstract of high data fibre cableIt said the company, which has the contracts to provide the infrastructure through most of the country, has said it is ready to do so without waiting for the requests that are required under the existing universal service obligation (USO).

BT’s proposal involves using a range of technologies, including fibre to cabinet, fibre to home and wireless. It would involve an estimated investment of £450-600 million to take 99% of premises to the 10Mbps download speed – with a minimum 1Mbps for uploads – by 2020.

DCMS said the speed would meet the typical needs of a family to stream films, carry out video conferencing and browse the web at the same time. If achieved, this should ensure that people have sufficient bandwidth to access public services online.

The department has also launched a consultation with proposals on how to achieve the USO, saying the feedback will help it make a decision on whether to follow the voluntary BT approach or stick with its existing, regulatory plan.

Minister's welcome

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said: “The Government is taking action to ensure that people everywhere in the UK can get a decent broadband connection as soon as possible. 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.”

Under BT’s proposal, it would fund the investment and recover its costs through the charges for products providing access to its local access networks. The approach to recovering these costs will be considered in current wholesale local access review by communications regulator Ofcom.

The move is unlikely to impress the critics of the Government’s decision to settle for 10Mbps as the satisfactory bandwidth under the USO. It was announced when David Cameron was prime minister in 2015, and a proposal from the House of Lords to beef it up to 30Mbps was dropped shortly before this year’s general election.

DCMS said that over 93% of homes and businesses can now get 24Mbps. But last year it published an analysis revealing that there were still significant broadband ‘blackspots’ around the country.

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