Out-Law News 1 min. read

Ofcom to consult on universal broadband providers before 2019

Telecoms operators in the UK will find out before the end of the year if Ofcom intends to place them under a duty to deliver minimum-standard broadband services across the whole or part of the country, Out-Law.com has learned.

Ofcom, the UK's telecoms regulator, has the power to designate providers of the new universal service obligation (USO) for broadband. New rules setting out how the designation process should apply were made earlier this week. The Electronic Communications (Universal Service) (Broadband) Regulations will come into force on 4 December.

Ofcom told Out-Law.com that it intends to consult on designations for the USO for broadband by the end of 2018.

"Before the end of the year, we will consult on who should be designated as the universal service provider(s), as well as what universal service obligations should be attached to them," an Ofcom spokesperson said in a statement.

The government announced last year that it would press ahead with introducing a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband after deciding against taking up an offer from BT to deliver universal broadband access to properties across the country in a voluntary fashion. It subsequently consulted on the make-up of the USO and confirmed the details in new legislation that came into force in April this year.

The USO for broadband is made up of several components, the main feature of which is a right for property owners in the UK to have access to broadband services with minimum download speeds of 10Mbps.

"Additional quality parameters" are also mandated, including minimum upload speeds of 1Mbps, restrictions on the sharing of bandwith across customers, a duty to minimise delays in the transmission of data over the broadband networks, and a requirement to allow customers to download at least 100GBs of data every month under the service on offer.

Industry will be responsible for funding the delivery of the USO for broadband through a "cost-sharing mechanism" to be set up by Ofcom. Ofcom has until 28 March 2020 to implement the USO. The regulator is obliged to designate which broadband providers are subject to the USO requirements and establish and administer an industry fund to compensate the 'universal service providers' for "any unfair net cost burden".

According to the new regulations set to take effect next week, Ofcom "shall propose the designation of such persons as they consider appropriate as universal service providers". Ofcom must give the reasons for making that proposal. The regulations also provide for "alternative proposals" to be put forward by businesses, and Ofcom is obliged to consider representations made in response to its own plans, including alternatives, before finalisation its designations.

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