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Government rejects 30Mbps minimum speed for broadband USO

Thursday, April 27th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government has rejected the idea of setting the UK’s minimum standard broadband speed at 30Mbps.

Digital minister Matt Hancock, during a debate on the Digital Economy Bill yesterday, said there were “serious concerns” about an amendment passed by the House of Lords in February.

The change would have seen a Universal Service Obligation (USO) set at 30Mbps with a deadline of 2020 to reach every household in the UK.

Instead, the government has proposed setting the minimum speed at 10Mbps for it to be reviewed by Ofcom when the take-up of superfast services reaches 75%.

Mr Hancock said the Lords’ amendment would have been “counterproductive to the implementation of a USO because of the risk of legal challenge”.

He said USOs are intended to ensure a baseline of service where take-up is good but “where the market has not delivered or where users are at risk of social exclusion”.

The minister added: “We are not in a position where a substantial majority have taken up superfast broadband. I do however support the ambition of faster, better and more reliable broadband.”

Mr Hancock said his new amendment “gives the assurance that any USO speed will be reconsidered once a substantial majority of subscribers are on superfast”.

Shadow digital minister Louise Haigh said Ofcom had “made the case very clearly” that rolling out 30Mbps broadband would be better value for money for the taxpayer.

The communications watchdog said in December that providing 10Mbps to the 1.4m premises without it would cost around £1.1bn, while a 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload speed could be delivered for £2bn.

'Utterly shocking'

Ms Haigh pointed out the poor state of broadband coverage in rural areas: “Just 59% of rural Britain has access to superfast speeds and an utterly shocking 40% in rural hamlets do not have access to basic broadband.

“The legal mechanism of a USO is only one of the tools the government has at its disposal to deliver decent broadband to all, including more highly specified services,” she added.

“We would like to have seen the government back 30Mbps in its entirety and I do not accept that millions of consumers and businesses should simply be left behind.”

One Lords amendment that looks as though it will be part of the final Bill is the requirement for on-demand programmes to include subtitles.

Mr Hancock said yesterday: “I pay tribute to Action on Hearing Loss as well as many honourable members who pressed this matter.

“Ofcom will now have the power to ensure that subtitles or other appropriate provision is put in place.”

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