Universal high-speed broadband to reach all parts of UK


Homes and businesses across all parts of the UK will benefit from universal high-speed broadband, the Culture Secretary has announced.

Karen Bradley said BT has put forward an offer to voluntarily provide the service, which would largely be delivered by Openreach.

It comes after this year's Digital Economy Act set out a universal service obligation (USO), which the Government committed to introducing.

Defining a minimum broadband download speed of 10Mbps, the regulatory USO would give every home and business the right to request this high-speed connection.

But the Government has said that BT's proposal means many premises would receive substantially more speed and connections quicker than through a regulatory approach.

Considering the two options, Ms Bradley said the Government is "taking action" to ensure that people everywhere in the UK "can get a decent broadband connection as soon as possible".

"We warmly welcome BT's offer and now will look at whether this or a regulatory approach works better for homes and businesses," she said.

"Whichever of the two approaches we go with in the end, the driving force behind our decision-making will be making sure we get the best deal for consumers."

The proposed minimum speed of 10Mbps is what a typical family needs for them to be able to simultaneously stream films, video conference and browse the web, the Government said.

It will consider BT's proposal alongside a consultation on introducing the regulatory USO, which was launched on Sunday.

A regulatory USO would provide a safety net, meaning that fast and reliable broadband was available to everyone, regardless of where they lived, the Government said.

The consultation outlines detailed proposals for how this new right to request a connection would work in practice.

BT chief executive Gavin Patterson said: "We are pleased to make a voluntary offer to deliver the Government's goal for universal broadband access at minimum speeds of 10Mbps.

"This would involve an estimated investment of £450 million to £600 million depending on the final technology solution.

"This investment will reinforce the UK's status as the leading digital economy in the G20.

"We already expect 95% of homes and businesses to have access to superfast broadband speeds of 24Mbps or faster by the end of 2017.

"Our latest initiative aims to ensure that all UK premises can get faster broadband, even in the hardest-to-reach parts of the UK."

Unlike under a regulatory USO, BT's proposal is to proactively build the necessary network infrastructure to connect the majority of households and businesses rather than wait for this to be done on request, the Government said.

It is also proposed that BT would fund this investment and recover its costs through the charges for products providing access to its local access networks - an approach which will be considered in Ofcom's current local access review.

The Government said it would now work with BT over the coming months to develop the proposal - which, if it is accepted, would be legally binding.

A decision on which approach to take is expected to be made following the consultation on the regulatory USO.