High Speed Broadband to become a ‘legal right’

The UK Government has confirmed that universal high speed broadband will be delivered by introducing a legally enforceable right to decent broadband for all by 2020.

A regulatory Universal Service Obligation (USO) will be introduced by secondary legislation published early next year, with Ofcom expected to implement it so that everyone in the UK has access to high speed broadband.

The USO will give everyone in the UK access to speeds of at least 10 Mbps. This is the speed independent regulator Ofcom says is needed to meet the requirements of an average family. Currently more than 150,000 premises in Scotland do not have access to broadband reaching these speeds.

The USO was established by the Digital Economy Act 2017. This summer BT proposed to deliver universal broadband through a voluntary agreement instead. That proposal has now been rejected by the UK Government, who favour a stronger, legally binding agreement. It will also allow the minimum speed of connection to be increased over time as consumers’ connectivity requirements evolve.

While the power to legislate over broadband is reserved to Westminster, the delivery of superfast broadband is the responsibility of local councils in England and the Scottish Government north of the Border. 

This deadline is a year earlier than the Scottish Government’s plans for full broadband coverage, which is already behind schedule. The Scottish Government previously said contracts would be put out to tender for their R100 project in Autumn 2017, however the contracts were only put to tender on 18th December.

Welcoming the announcement, John Lamont MP said: “I’m pleased the UK Government have rejected BT’s proposals for a voluntary agreement. This legally binding Universal Service Obligation will make high speed broadband a reality for everyone in the Borders, regardless of where they live or work.

“A decent broadband connection is absolutely a necessity in this day and age and poor internet is holding the Borders back.”

“This announcement is hugely positive, it paves the way for universal broadband, provided by BT, in just a few years’ time, which will be transformation for so many in the Borders. The UK Government has also committed to increasing the speed of the broadband connection people can request over time.

“In contrast, the Scottish Government’s own target for full broadband coverage won’t come until at least a year later, they don’t know who’s going to provide it and their project is already behind schedule.”