London, United Kingdom, March 11, 2015 --(PR.com
)-- A new survey, which was conducted with 1,445 readers of the ISPreview.co.uk consumer information website, has examined the question of whether the time is now right for the United Kingdom's national telecoms regulator, Ofcom, to impose a legally binding Universal Service Obligation (USO) for the provision of basic broadband Internet access. Overall 71.5% of respondents agreed that a USO should be imposed, specifically one that promised download speeds of at least 2Mbps (Megabits per second).
The Government and telecoms operator BT are currently working towards making superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds available to 95% of the United Kingdom by 2017, through the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, and a plan for reaching the final 5% is anticipated to follow soon. At the same time the Government has also pledged to ensure that everybody can access a basic broadband speed of at least 2Mbps by early 2016 through a Universal Service Commitment (USC).
The USC is not legally binding and at present Ofcom's binding USO rules only mandate that BT deliver, following the "reasonable request of any End-user", a telephone service that includes the ability to offer "data rates that are sufficient to permit functional internet access."
"It's widely recognised that Internet connectivity is considered a fourth utility, which is vital to the way that many people communicate, work and play in the modern online world," said ISPreview.co.uk's Founder, Mark Jackson. "Never the less the current USO is limited and gives consumers no protection or assurance that their home will be able to support a proper broadband connection, which in today's world has become a necessity."
One pitfall of adding broadband to the USO is that it could raise the cost of service delivery because operators would need to ensure that everybody could access a viable broadband connection, which may require additional engineering staff, support and network development. As a result the survey also questioned what impact service speeds and cost would have upon whether or not consumers would accept a USO.
Q. Would you accept a small increase (i.e. around GBP1 per month) in the price of your broadband in return for a USO?
No - 49.8%
Yes - 40.7%
Maybe - 9.4%
Q. Would you accept a larger price rise (i.e. +GBP2 to GBP3) if the USO pledged a minimum speed of 10Mbps?
No - 45.9%
Yes - 42%
Maybe - 12%
"It's interesting to note that the vast majority of consumers support adding broadband connectivity to the national USO, but this falls away sharply the moment they're asked to help cover the costs of catering for it. But interestingly those who are still willing to pay appear to be almost equally comfortable paying a little extra per month, provided it meant they could get an even faster minimum service speed. Clearly more research is needed to examine the potential impact on costs and competition, ideally reflecting a post BDUK deployment market," added Jackson.
In recent months members of both the British Labour Party and Scotland's SNP have expressed an interest in reviewing the current USO, with a possible eye towards adding broadband as a requirement. As a result there's a strong possibility that this could become an issue in the forthcoming May 2015 General Election campaign.
"The advantage of having broadband as a USO is that it would no longer be good enough to deliver a phone line that is incapable of even basic broadband. But any such measures would also need to be well thought out in order to avoid unintended consequences, which might for example reinforce BT's dominance of the market and make it even harder for rivals to enter," added Jackson.