Homes and businesses across the land will have a legal right to high-speed internet within three years, the government has announced. The statement dismisses calls from BT that high-speed internet should be voluntary rather than a legal requirement for ISPs.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport however thought otherwise, saying that only a universal service obligation (USO) would guarantee speeds of at least 10MB/s across the country.
BT had previously said that it would voluntarily close the gap in broadband speeds that has seen rural areas fall severely behind cities. The telecomms company said that it believed adding legislation would slow progress.
In its response, the department argued that it did “not feel the proposal was strong enough for us to take the regulatory USO off the table, and have therefore decided not to pursue BT’s proposal, in favour of providing a legal right to broadband”.
Culture secretary Karen Bradley said that she appreciated BT's proposal, but reinforced that only regulation would make sure that everyone in the country is able to get high-speed broadband. “We know how important broadband is to homes and businesses and we want everyone to benefit from a fast and reliable connection."
The company responded, saying that it respects the decision.“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.
“We look forward to receiving more details from the government outlining its approach to defining the regulatory USO, including the proposed funding mechanism.”
Don't get too excited though, digital minister Matt Hancock went on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and said that this doesn't mean that high-speed broadband will automatically be delivered to every property.
“It’s about having the right to demand it. It’s an on-demand programme. If you don’t go on the internet and aren’t interested then you won’t phone up and demand this. The ‘access’ is being able to demand it,” he said.
The UK currently lags behind many parts of the world, with only 3 per cent of the country having full-fibre lines. This stands in stark comparison to Japan which stands at 97 per cent.
He continued: “This is the next big drive we have got to do as a country. Our rollout of super-fast has been the fastest among comparable countries. The drive to get the full fibre connections, the future-proof connections, started only a year ago. I’m absolutely determined to see that rolled out.”
Ofcom pointed out earlier this month that there are more than one million 'forgotten homes', with 4 per cent of homes and offices unable to hit 10 MB/s.