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Broadband USO should include 'social tariff for most vulnerable'

Thursday, October 20th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The legislation that will give Brits the legal right to fast broadband should also include a social tariff to ensure those most in need can afford it, councils have said.

The Universal Service Obligation (USO), which will ensure everyone in the UK can access speeds of at least 10Mbps, is a key part of the government’s Digital Economy Bill.

But the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, is concerned that not everyone will be able to afford to pay the market rate.

It is suggesting the introduction of a social tariff that would give households that would face “undue hardship” in paying a standard rate a subsidised broadband service.

BT already offers a basic phone line and broadband package at a reduced rate for people claiming benefits such as income support or universal credit.

The LGA thinks any providers delivering the USO should offer a similar service.

Councillor Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places board, said: “Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, access their bank accounts and even run their own businesses.

“As central and local government services become more digital, the USO will need to provide faster and more reliable speeds and, for our most vulnerable residents, a subsided connection at an affordable price.

'Markedly different'

“The quality of digital connectivity can be markedly different from area to area with some households being able to access superfast broadband speeds whilst others can only achieve substantially less.

“Councils want to see a social tariff enabling all people to be able to access a subsidised broadband service.”

Last month, the LGA called for broadband providers to be forced to open up address-level speed data to show consumers exactly what they can expect to get at their property.

At the moment, it is only possible to see postcode-level estimates of ‘up to’ speeds that can vary significantly from what people actually receive.

The Digital Economy Bill includes new ‘information collection powers’ for Ofcom that will cover customer experience data as well as broadband line speeds.

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