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The universal service obligation (USO) for broadband comes into effect on 20th March 2020.
The USO gives everyone living or working in a fixed location the right to request a broadband connection that connects at 10 Mbps or more in the download direction and 1 Mbps or more in the upload direction.
The biggest question is who do you contact, two companies are holding the USO flag and these are BT and KCOM (KCOM for the Hull area). Do not contact your existing broadband provider unless that is BT or KCOM of course. Once USO specific pages or contact info is available we will add them to this page.
IMPORTANT The COVID-19 virus and restrictions on work and travel may mean that teams handling the USO requests are fewer in number than was originally planned, so where possible restrict yourself to email/web based contact and if your broadband situation is such that you can manage we suggest putting off submitting your request until things have got back to a more normal situation. This advice is in addition to what would have been our original warning, that with any new system it will take a while for everyone to get used to how things work, i.e. first few requests will be the test subjects.
Where do I request my USO connection?
BT has launched its USO site at https://www.bt.com/broadband/USO which includes a postcode checker that will guide people through their options.
Oddly on some browsers we accessed the site via some content was missing, including the part saying that BT is planning to write to everyone it thinks who may be eligible. So if you have slow broadband and get a random BT letter in the post this may be why.
What technology will be used to deliver the broadband USO?
The expectation is that the vast majority will be delivered by posting out a 4G home router, i.e. exactly the same as the EE 4G Home service that already exists. You will have to sign up and pay for the service and USO services should as well as meeting the minimum speed requirement deliver a 100 GB or more usage allowance for less than £45/m.
Estimates drawn up when the Ofcom paperwork was being bounced around with consultations is that BT will use Fibre to the Premises for around 40,000 premises. Our own feelings here is that those with slow speeds that missed out from BDUK work e.g. FTTP currently ends 300m down the road might be those likely to see the FTTP.
What are the steps that BT and KCOM will follow in their process after you make your request?
- Provider double checks that you are a fixed location, i.e. delivering to a caravan on a standard camp site will not be eligible, but we believe permanent static home sites where you can live 365 days of the year will qualify.
- The provider will check what options are already available to the property, e.g. they may just point out that VDSL2 is available that meets the USO requirements, or a fixed wireless service appears to cover the area. The alternatives must cost £46.10/m or less, so the provider cannot recommend a ridculously expensive service.
- Checks will be made on what existing plans to bring decent broadband to your area already exist, e.g. is the Scottish R100 scheme planned for your location or a BDUK project extension. If there is a plan that is intending to deliver within 12 months you are not eligible for the USO.
- If the cost of delivering a better than 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up connection is above £3,400 (excluding VAT) you will be asked whether you are willing/able to contribute to the excess costs. NOTE: In some cases there may be other vouchers you can claim against, so check with local authority broadband site and Gigabit broadband voucher scheme. The provider should consider the impact of the work on others in an area, so costs can be spread out across multiple properties, so while cost may be more than £3,400 with 3 properties benefiting from the work the cost per property falls under the threshold.
- Assuming you make it to this point then a USO capable solution will be delivered, it may be as simple as posting the 4G router or may require physical work to build FTTP out to you.
How quick will all this happen?
Well the first responses should be within 30 days of contacting the provider, i.e. at the end of the 30 days you should have been told if eligible or not and if eligible whether you need to contribute any money above the £3,400 if you want the service to be delivered.
Once work to deliver the USO service has been agreed the provider has a year to deliver the service.
If FTTP is built to me am I restricted to BT as my provider?
We believe if you are the person who institgates the USO request your minimum term of 12, 18 or 24 months will mean you have to use BT Consumer or BT Business for that period, but thereafter you will able to migrate to any of the providers selling FTTP.
If FTTP is delivered you will have the range of connection speeds to choose from with the entry level speed of 40 Mbps priced at under £34.99/m if you ignore all the promotional offers from BT through to the 500 and Gigabit options if you want the highest speeds.
Neighbours who within reach of the connectorised block terminal (CBT) that was installed for you, will also be able to order FTTP and they will have the full range of ISP choice.
Will BT deploy more VDSL2 cabinets to meet the USO?
While it is possible some larger clusters of 50 to 100 premises might see a FTTC cabinet, we believe it is unlikely that we will see more than a few VDSL2 cabinets deployed for the USO if any at all.
I can get decent 4G from EE/O2/three/Vodafone today whats the point in applying?
If any of the 4G services can deliver on the 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up connection speed, then a very high probability that the existing service checks will come back pointing this out. One small hope is that if clusters of people apply that FTTP might be used, but we believe this is more likely to happen for clusters that are also outside coverage of any of the mobile networks.
I have ADSL2+ with 14,336 Kbps download sync and 1,048 Kbps upload sync, can I apply?
Now the USO is up and running it is clear that those with ADSL2+ and downloads connection speeds above 10 Mbps are not qualifying. If your upload sync is below 1000 Kbps you should technically qualify, but with the big initial rush you may have to wait for processes to settle down.
If I get the 4G Home service do have to have an external antenna?
The expectation is that for properties within reach of an EE mast initially the standard home router will be posted out once you accept the contract. We suggest experimenting with the best room to locate it, ideally high up in the property on the side closest to the mast. If the ideal location for the mobile signal means poor Wi-Fi coverage, then running an Ethernet cable from the router and connecting a wireless access point is the best bet.
Our understanding is that the external antenna will only be sent out (with a cost of £99 to cover installation) if a property should have 4G coverage but the router is unable to get a good 4G signal. Reasons for this may be a new build home with lots of metal film insulation that blocks the mobile signal.
Will applying under the USO stop publicly funded projects coming to me in the future?
With the focus now firmly on Gigabit broadband for everyone, the only way that a USO will mean you are ignored is if FTTP is delivered as the solution. Some BDUK projects may skip you if VDSL2 is delivered that meets the superfast speed requirements of that contract.
BT insists a fixed wireless service covers my area but I tried it some years ago and it did not work, what do I do?
First check with the fixed wireless provider they may have added more masts or sectors to an existing, or are using different frequencies with a longer reach now.
If you are have tried again to get service and it has failed, then you need to get back to BT and highlight that you have applied for the service, at this point having some proof e.g. email/letter from fixed wireless provider will help support your case. If you get stonewalled by BT please do get in touch with thinkbroadband and we will try to support your case. We expect some confusion in the first few months of the USO and thus a bit of back and forth over alternative solutions is likely.
Are satellite services USO capable?
The current geo-stationary satellites are fail the USO requirements due to the high latencies that arise from the large distances the signal must travel.
The new Starlink and other low earth orbit services may meet the USO criteria, but the price and usage allowance on these new services is unknown at this time.
How much does the BT 4G Home broadband service cost?
The BT website has the full details of their 4G services that include a mini router, the short summary is:
- 4G Hub with 200GB monthly data allowance, £40/m on a 24 month contract
- 4G Hub with 300GB monthly data allowance, £45/m on a 24 month contract
- 4G Hub with 500GB monthly data allowance, £50/m on a 24 month contract
They state an average speed of 30 Mbps, but position in the home will make a big difference, so if you do get the 4G Hub some experimentation to find the best place to position will be needed. As a general guide, the higher up and on the side of the building closest to the mobile mast is what you want to aim for.
The BT site says I am not eligible, but my speeds are below 10 Mbps, what do I do?
In the first instance the criteria is connection speed, often called sync speed which can be checked in your ADSL or VDSL2 routers interface. If this is below 10,000 Kbps (10 Mbps) then you should be eligible.
My sync speed is definitely below 10 Mbps so what should you do? Well since the USO helpdesk has seen a big rush of queries we would suggest if you can be patient and wait for a while it may be less stressful to have a quick moan and revisit the issue in a few weeks.
If your sync speed is below 5,000 Kbps (5 Mbps) then obviously you are likely to be struggling, especially with the Stay At Home advice, therefore you may need to persist and try to talk to someone at BT.
What can I do to check why the BT site says I am not eligible?
In the first instance you need to double check that things like a phone extension in the home is not the cause of your low speeds, after that checking what the Ofcom checker says for you and our own postcode checker may be worthwhile.
If all the checkers warn about speeds below 10 Mbps and our checker does not indicate an alternative provider is available, make a note (i.e. screenshot) of what each checker says and have this with you when you contact the BT USO team. As we have said elsewhere if possible you may get a better response by waiting for the initial wave of queries to subside.
Do I have to switch to BT before the USO service is delivered?
In short no. The 4G Hub option does nothing to your existing broadband service, so if with another provider you can choose to retain the slow ADSL/ADSL2+/FTTC service and run them in parallel.
Those who are accepted for 4G work by BT will once the service is ready need to switch to BT, but this will be some months after your initial contact with BT.
I have another question on the USO that you have not answered, can you help?
We will do our best to answer all your questions related to the broadband USO and also liase with BT to help you get a reasonable solution, just drop us an email - andrew at thinkbroadband dot com
Our priority for helping is at this time going to be given to those with the slowest speeds, i.e. those with sub 2 Mbps or slower options currently.