Plans for broadband Universal Service Obligation

Picture by Jane Coltman
Picture by Jane Coltman

The Government has announced plans for broadband to be put on a similar footing to other basic services, giving everyone a legal right to request a 10 Mbps connection by 2020.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week that work is now starting on introducing a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) – similar to that which exists for the postal service – with the ambition to give people the legal right to request a connection to broadband with speeds of 10 Mbps, no matter where they live.

Mr Cameron said: “Access to the Internet shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be a right – absolutely fundamental to life in 21st-century Britain. That is why I’m announcing a giant leap in my digital mission for Britain.

“Just as our forebears effectively brought gas, electricity and water to all, we’re going to bring fast broadband to every home and business that wants it. That’s right: we’re getting Britain – all of Britain – online, and on the way to becoming the most prosperous economy in the whole of Europe.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, has welcomed the announcement, saying: “I am delighted the Government has listened and will introduce this minimum standard. Rural areas such as ours are often forgotten as technology marches on and it is so important that the people of Northumberland benefit to the same extent as other parts of the country.”

Mrs Trevelyan has recently written to the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, calling for a USO to be introduced and tabled questions in Parliament to encourage the Government to do so.

In the meantime, Mrs Trevelyan is organising a constituency-wide audit of broadband provision and speed. The MP is working with an independent company contracted by Ofcom to seek a full picture of the quality of broadband provision throughout her constituency.

She said: “Since becoming the MP, I have been inundated with complaints from local people about broadband provision. Some areas seem to have a good service, but others are struggling to receive a good speed, and I want to get hard data on provision that I can use to get a better deal for the people of Northumberland.

“Broadband is so important to those of us who live in rural areas, especially people who run businesses. We need good broadband to be able to use it more innovatively – our local GPs being able to use tele-medicine services to be able to provide 24/7 care for patients as they do in reliable broadband areas, setting up new businesses, trading internationally and, let’s not forget, being able to use the internet to help with homework.”

The audit will be launched in the coming months. It involves homeowners downloading the audit software, which runs for one month building up a detailed picture of the strength and speed of broadband received to the household.

The data from the audit will also be fed into Ofcom to inform their view on national provision. The company will be able to advise customers on whether their signal can be improved with a simple home fix, and how to do so.