Everyone in the UK will have the legal right to request a decent and affordable broadband connection from March next year, the communications regulator has confirmed.
Under the new rights, Ofcom said households will be able to request better broadband, capable of delivering download speeds of at least 10 Mbit/s, and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbit/s.
When someone makes a request, telecoms firms BT or KCOM, which have been selected by Ofcom to deliver the service, will have 30 days to confirm whether the customer is eligible. This will involve establishing whether the property already has access to decent broadband, at an affordable price; or if it is due to be connected by a publicly-funded scheme within 12 months.
Once confirmed, BT or KCOM will have to deliver the connection as quickly as possible. Under the legislation for the new service, the cost of providing connections to eligible homes will be paid for up to £3,400. If the required work costs more than that, customers can either pay the additional costs or seek an alternative solution outside the universal service, such as satellite broadband.
Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, said: “As more of our daily lives move online, bringing better broadband to people and businesses is crucial. From next year, this new broadband safety net will give everyone a legal right to request a decent connection – whether you live in a city or a hamlet.
"This will be vital for people who are struggling to get the broadband they need.”
Customers who are connected through the new universal service will pay the same prices and receive the same service quality as other broadband customers who have an equivalent connection.
A report revealed earlier this year that about 3,000 new properties a year – roughly 13 per cent of the total built each year in Scotland – are currently missing out on full-fibre technology.
Consumer groups welcomed the move, but said the timescale set out by the regulator could see households wait two years for a good connection.
Caroline Normand, director of advocacy at Which? , said: “Too many people have been waiting for far too long to get good enough broadband to carry out even the most basic online tasks. So it’s disappointing that some people may have to wait up to another 24 months to receive their USO connection.
“Requesting a connection must be a simple process that leads to consumers getting the broadband they need without unnecessary hassle - with the regulator holding both providers to account and ensuring they face significant penalties if they fail to deliver.”
Matt Powell, editor at Broadband Genie, said: “The Universal Service Obligation is an important step toward ensuring that everyone can get a minimum level of broadband internet access. Although it is anticipated that 98 per cent of homes will be able to get download speeds of 24Mbps+ by 2020, the USO will help those in the remaining two per cent who are not covered by other network upgrades."