Homes and businesses across the UK will have a legal right to demand high-speed broadband by 2020, the UK government has said - a week after the Scottish Government pledged to roll out superfast broadband within the next four years.
The Westminster announcement comes as the government rejected a voluntary offer from Openreach, owned by BT, to improve the situation by speeding up improvements to 1.1 million homes. It has promised that the whole of the UK will have access to speeds of at least 10 Mbps by 2020, under a regulatory Universal Service Obligation - a speed which Ofcom has said is needed to meet the requirements of an average family.
Under the plan, broadband providers will face a legal requirement to provide high-speed broadband to anyone requesting it, subject to a cost threshold.
A report published last week from Ofcom found that an estimated 150,000 Scottish premises cannot access good enough quality broadband, with speeds so slow that downloading an HD film can take at least 90 minutes.
Last week’s budget included an announcement from the Scottish Government that it would commit £600 million to the first phase of the programme to ensure that everyone in Scotland has access to superfast broadband speeds.
Culture secretary Karen Bradley said the Westminster government believed that only a regulatory USO offered sufficient certainty and the legal enforceability required to ensure high-speed broadband access for the whole of the UK by 2020.
She said: “We are grateful to BT for their proposal but have decided 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.”
A BT spokesman said: “We respect the Government’s 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.”
Britain also lags behind most of Europe in providing fibre to the home which guarantees the fastest speeds available.
Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “This decision is welcome news, as consumers around the country simply want to know they will be able to access a broadband service.
“The Government must now move quickly to ensure consumers get these promised speeds by 2020 and closely monitor the programme to ensure it can keep pace with changing technology.”