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Is the UK government really abandoning its 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation pledge?

Government officials deny that they are leaving rural residents and businesses out of a scheme that would see them get a basic 10Mbps broadband service by 2020

A report in yesterday’s Telegraph suggests that the government is abandoning or half-stepping on its pledge to make a 10Mbps service available to every address in the UK. 
 
The various BDUK schemes across the UK aim to see at least 95 per cent of premises able to order superfast broadband – defined by the government as anything faster than 25Mbps – by 2017. By 2018, the plan is for superfast broadband to be available to at least 98 per cent. 

The idea is that this new 10Mbps for all guarantee would cover those living or working in that final 2 per cent of properties, including Cape Wrath, Sutherland (pictured), one of the most remote parts of the UK. 

It’s currently unclear how the government plans to do this from a technological perspective, but a DCMS spokesperson told Recombu that the plan is to mandate a Universal Service Obligation, which would see a provider required to connect any customer to a 10Mbps service if they asked for it. 

BT is currently bound by a Universal Service Obligation which see it required to install phone lines capable of supporting voice calls and ‘functional internet access’ (read: at least dial-up). BT says it will take on a maximum of £3,400 in costs per property; if the costs are any higher, then it’s up to whoever wants the phone line to open their wallet.

It’s understood that the government is in favour of maintaining this demand-driven approach for the 10Mbps USO rollout at present, instead of rolling out connections regardless. 

While the prospect of having to fork out for something that the 2 per cent should arguably be getting anyway, the consultations are still in the early phase so this is by no means set in stone. It’s unclear if the same £3,400 threshold will apply and what technology will be used to deliver 10Mbps as standard services.

DCMS’s spokesperson insisted that the idea that people in rural areas will be left out is ‘absolute nonsense’. The spokesperson added: “Our current plans will reach at least 95 per cent of the UK, but we want everyone to have fast broadband so we are introducing a Universal Service Obligation to help make sure no one is left behind.”

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