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Brit lords slip 30Mbps Universal Service Obligation into UK Digital Economy Bill

Eleventh-hour amendment, but will it stick with government?

Parliament photo by Shutterstock

An eleventh-hour amendment has been added to the UK government's Digital Economy Bill, proposing an increase of the Universal Service Obligation from 10Mbps to 30Mbps.

Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn managed to slip in the increase in the Bill yesterday, which would also set upload speeds of 6Mbps per second. He said: "Everyone should be able to access 30Mbps capabilities."

The 10Mbps USO was intended to focus on the final 3 per cent of people unable to access 24Mpbs by 2020. Around 1.4 million people in Blighty are unable to get speeds of 10Mbps, according to Ofcom's annual Connected Nations report.

The government has intimated that it does not want to fork out for USO funding, suggesting it should be an industry-funded scheme.

However, that is likely to lead to issues if some operators feel they are effectively subsidising the USO provider. So far BT is the only operator to express interest in providing the USO.

Ofcom has advised on three scenarios for a USO, which will cost between £1.1-2bn. These include a standard broadband offering at 10Mbps; a more highly specified version of this service; and a more expensive superfast broadband service. The government will respond to the consultation after the bill passes.

Mendelsohn said: "The amendments are not outlandish; they are a conservative defence of the government's goals. They are about making a policy fit for the future, rather than one fit for the past."

However, it is possible the amendment may be removed by government. ®


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