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CLA: New USO can transform rural areas but must be enshrined in law

Thursday, June 23rd 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government’s pledge to provide fast broadband speeds for everyone in the UK needs to be enshrined in law, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has claimed.

Plans for a new Universal Service Obligation (USO) were revealed by Prime Minister David Cameron last year and set out in the Queen’s Speech in May.

The new USO would give every household the right to a broadband connection of at least 10Mbps by 2020, with Ofcom given the power to review the speed over time.

Responding to a consultation on how the USO should be designed, the CLA said those who live and work in the countryside should not be excluded.

“A USO that can guarantee sufficient bandwidth will transform rural areas and must be enshrined in law,” said CLA president Ross Murray.

“Only half of rural homes and businesses can receive a broadband connection with speeds of 10Mbps. That should be a benchmark minimum speed which evolves as technological advances are made.

“It may work in 2020 but could be insufficient just five years later so the USO must be easily amended to meet the future needs of the market place and the consumer.”

Mr Murray said the USO should come with a legal guarantee that people who cannot achieve the minimum speed will get compensation.

“If the current mode of broadband fails to deliver, the consumer should be able to explore alternative means of connection from fibre to satellite and wireless.”

He also said that, given the number of infrastructure providers in the market place and the number of technologies available, it made sense for more than one universal service provider to be appointed.

'Reduce the burden'

“This would reduce the burden on a single provider and give consumers more choice to reasonably request the USO at an affordable rate.

“As long as there is a suitably effective and efficient framework to implement the USO providers could be at regional level, particularly when considering other technologies such as wireless.”

BT is currently responsible for providing a universal fixed line service to everywhere in the UK except for Hull and East Yorkshire, which is covered by KCOM.

Despite the new proposed USO giving everyone the right to request a fast connection, digital minister Ed Vaizey has suggested that some households may still miss out.

Speaking to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in April, Mr Vaizey said there could be cap on the amount of funding available for individual connections.

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