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Ofcom proposes BT, KCOM as UK USO providers

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UK communications regulator, Ofcom has proposed to make BT and KCOM the UK’s broadband universal service providers, following submissions of interest from eight companies. Ofcom is also consulting on the obligations that should apply to them in delivering the universal service.

The UK government confirmed its commitment to delivering broadband speeds of at least 10Mb/s by 2020 to everyone, via a regulatory universal service obligation (USO) at the start of the year (see UK government rejects BT's voluntary USO proposal), and in March, it introduced the legislation.

Ofcom is responsible for implementing the USO and in June, telecoms companies were asked to come forward as prospective universal service providers.  Eight expressions of interest were received, which needed to meet three criteria: the ability to finance the delivery of the service; to cover more than 5,000 eligible premises in each chosen local authority; and have proposed technology that meets the technical specification.

The regulator says that of the eight entries, BT, KCOM and Hyperoptic satisfied all criteria. However, the latter subsequently withdrew its interest. BT has been proposed as the universal service provider across the whole of the UK excluding the Hull Area, which KCOM will cover.

Ofcom says that other operators do still have the opportunity to come forward if they wish to be considered as a universal service provider, as this is a consultation, which will close on 13 February 2019. The final decision on designated providers and their obligations is expected to be published by early summer 2019. Consumers will then be able to make requests for connections from the end of 2019. Providers will have 30 days to determine whether a consumer is eligible for the USO by checking: the premises is a home or business that has no access to existing decent, affordable broadband and will not be covered by a public rollout scheme in the next 12 months. The cost of a connection must also not exceed £3,400.

Evan Wienburg, CEO of TrueSpeed has responded to Ofcom's announcement, stating: 'Ofcom’s proposal that BT should be the only Universal Service Provider (USP), apart from KCOM in Hull, is bad news for eligible consumers living with inadequate or no broadband. Many of them will then have to wait up to a year just to get connected to an inferior broadband service over BT’s part-copper lines.  Part-copper is yesterday’s technology, and deploying it today is simply short sighted. It will do nothing to reduce the gaping urban/rural digital divide and will necessitate further upgrades to full fibre in the near future.'

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