Access to high-speed broadband will soon be a legal right for everyone in the UK

After years of campaigning, access to high-speed broadband will soon be written into law as a legal right for everyone in the UK. 

A Universal Service Obligation will be introduced by 2020 to make sure everyone can request, and get access to, connection speeds of at least 10 Mbps. Ofcom defines ‘decent’ broadband speeds to be 10Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads. However, thousands of UK properties can’t hit these speeds, particularly in rural areas.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Digital Minister Matt Hancock, did caveat the announcement with the fact the plans will give people the right to ask for high-speed broadband by 2020 but they won’t guarantee a connection by that date.

In their 2017 manifesto, the Conservatives pledged that “by 2020 every home and every business in Britain has access to high-speed broadband” and while today’s announcement is a step towards that, Hancock’s caveat shows that it may have been a tad ambitious. 

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The minister did not expand more on the details of the legislation and plans to reveal more next year. 

This announcement follows Ofcom’s recent Connected Nations report which found that around 1.1 million UK properties are in areas that cannot get acceptable broadband. Some 17% in rural areas have unacceptable broadband speed compared to 2% in urban areas.

“Broadband coverage is improving, but our findings show there’s still urgent work required before people and businesses get the services they need,” said Ofcom’s technology chief Steve Unger.

“Everyone should have good access to the internet, wherever they live and work. So we are supporting plans for universal broadband, and promoting investment in full-fibre technology that can provide ultrafast, reliable connections.”

Interestingly, 90% of UK properties have access to ‘superfast’ broadband, but it is bought by less than four in ten properties.

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This chart from Ofcom’s report shows coverage for all operators in the UK. Coverage levels for individual operators will be higher. Based on Ofcom coverage definitions, which are different to those used in coverage obligations

Folllowing the report, Lord Adonis, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), has written a strongly worded letter to Ofcom urging the regulator to tackle the UK’s “deplorable” coverage. 

“In an age when access to a mobile signal is regarded asa must-have, it is deplorable that even in areas previously considered to have strong coverage, operators are still delivering such poor services that customers can struggle to make a quick phone call,” the letter explains. 

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“The situation is even worse than we thought. It demonstrates the need for urgent and radical action to tackle this issue immediately, ahead of new mobile spectrum being auctioned and 5G technology being rolled out.”

He is calling for Ofcom to “put all possible options on the table”, even if that means changing or introducing laws to make sure customers can get the service they “deserve and pay for.”

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