The right to demand high-speed broadband will be legally recognised by the UK Government after it promised to give homes and businesses faster internet connections by 2020, but it could come at a cost for customers.
The Government has promised to provide speeds of at least 10 megabytes per second (MBps) and said regulation was the best way of ensuring access to high-speed connections.
It rejected an offer from BT to roll out connections to 1.1 million homes in remote parts of the UK, instead opting to go with a “universal service obligation” (USO) that gives customers the right to demand an upgrade to their connection.
Service providers such as BT or Virgin are currently able to reject customer demands for better internet access if they believe it to be too expensive to install, especially in remote and isolated parts of the UK. It is estimated that 5 per cent of the population do not have access to high-speed internet.
Phone service providers in the UK are currently obliged by law to provide customers with a landline free of charge if installation costs are below £3,500. Above the threshold, landline providers are entitled to ask the customer to contribute to installation costs.
New rules could follow this model, a government spokesperson told The Independent, but how much internet providers are obliged to cover in costs is yet to be determined. It may mean some customers end up paying for new high-speed broadband connections in rural areas.
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The Government said it aims to publish more detail in a consultation in the new year, including how much the threshold will be for companies to stop providing installations free of charge.
“The Government believes that only a regulatory USO offers sufficient certainty and the legal enforceability that is required to ensure high-speed broadband access for the whole of the UK by 2020,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said on their website.
“However, we welcome BT’s continued investment to deliver broadband to all parts of the UK.”
Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said the Government was “grateful to BT for their proposal” but that only a “regulatory approach will make high-speed broadband a reality for everyone in the UK, regardless of where they live or work”.
“This is all part of our work on ensuring that Britain’s telecoms infrastructure is fit for the future and will continue to deliver the connectivity that consumers need in the digital age”, she added.
BT said it respected the decision taken by the Government.
“BT and Openreach want to get on with the job of making decent broadband available 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.”
A spokesperson for BT added that 95 per cent of the UK are expected to have internet speeds of 30 MBps or above by the end of this year.
The megabytes per second measurement of internet speed only refers to the minimum speed provided.