The UK government has announced that all businesses and homes across the country will be legally entitled to high speed broadband by the year 2020. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been putting pressure on the government in recent years to impose such measures, as it claims a universal service obligation is the only way to provide certainty that internet speeds of 10Mbps would be accessible to the whole country by 2020 as set out in government targets.
This is despite recent calls from BT, the UK’s network provider, to make it voluntary for suppliers to provide this rather than a legal requirement. BT had also said it would aim to close the gap in broadband speed between cities and rural areas, and has argued that this legislation could slow down the progress it’s able to make towards this goal.
BT also commented on the announcement by saying that although it doesn’t agree with the news, it respected the government’s decision. In a statement it said that “BT and Openreach want to get on with the job of making decent broadband available to everyone in the UK, so we’ll continue to explore the commercial options for bringing faster speeds to those parts of the country which are hardest to reach. We look forward to receiving more details from the government outlining its approach to defining the regulatory USO, including the proposed funding mechanism.”
However, the department said it did “not feel the proposal was strong enough for us to take the regulatory USO off the table, and have therefore decided not to pursue BT’s proposal, in favour of providing a legal right to broadband”. The culture secretary, Karen Bradley, added that a regulatory approach is the only way to ensure fast broadband can be reached by everyone. “We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection,” she said.
The digital minister, Matt Hancock, said that the regulations wouldn’t necessarily mean fast broadband would automatically be delivered across the entire country. “It’s about having the right to demand it. It’s an on-demand programme. If you don’t go on the internet and aren’t interested then you won’t phone up and demand this,” he said,
He added that “The ‘access’ is being able to demand it. This is the next big drive we have got to do as a country,” he said. “Our rollout of super-fast has been the fastest among comparable countries. The drive to get the full fibre connections, the future-proof connections, started only a year ago. I’m absolutely determined to see that rolled out.”
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