The government has rejected BT’s voluntary offer to provide broadband to areas without adequate internet access, in favour of creating a new regulatory guarantee for consumers.
The move marks a victory for rival broadband infrastructure providers, who had warned that accepting BT’s offer to carry out the work according to its own deadlines would stifle competition.
UK consumers will have the right to demand a 10Mbps connection by 2020 under a new “Universal Service Obligation”. The government claims the new regulation will provide “certainty”, but it’s not yet clear who will deliver the service. It has also said there will be “cost threshold” for connecting remote homes, but has not disclosed how high it will be.
Matt Hancock, minister for digital, told the BBC: “Access means you can phone up somebody, ask for it and then someone has the legal duty to deliver on that promise. It is about having the right to demand it, so it will be an on-demand programme. So if you don’t go on the internet, aren’t interested, then you won’t phone up and demand this.”
Commenting on the news, BT said: “BT and Openreach want to get on with the job of making decent broadband available to everyone in the UK, so we’ll continue to explore the commercial options for bringing faster speeds to those parts of the country which are hardest to reach.”
According to a report from Ofcom published last week, more than one million British homes and offices still lack access to a 10Mbps connection.
The regulator found that while coverage was steadily improving, around 4 per cent of properties cannot access a “decent” connection.
Ofcom’s CTO, Steve Unger, said “there’s still urgent work required before people and businesses get the services they need”.
Over the last 12 months, around 500,000 more premises gained access to good connections, but the report highlights that there is still a significant digital divide. While 98 per cent of urban premises can access a “decent” connection, just 83 per cent of rural properties can do so.
This is despite a growing demand for data. The average monthly volume of data carried across the UK’s networks rose by 52 per cent over the last twelve months, the report found.
More consumers are also making use of superfast broadband connections. Around 27 million premises can now access a connection with a download speed of 30Mbps, up from 25.5 million last year, and 11.2 million have bought these connections, up from 9.1 million last year.
But full fibre broadband connections are still scarce. Just 3 per cent of premises have access to the service, up from 2 per cent last year. In Spain, by comparison, full fibre market penetration is 80 per cent.