Ofcom probes BT practices in broadband business

Ofcom has opened an investigation in relation to BT’s compliance in relation to BT’s compliance with its obligations as a broadband universal service provider.
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In March 2018, the UK Government introduced legislation for a broadband ‘universal service obligation’ (USO), which gives homes and businesses the right to request a decent broadband connection.

Ofcom designated BT as a Universal Service Provider and imposed regulatory conditions setting out how it must provide USO connections to consumers.

Customers can request a USO connection from BT if they cannot currently receive affordable broadband services with speeds of at least 10 Mbit/s and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbit/s, under the legislation.

BT must assess the costs of providing that connection and, where this is less than £3,400, BT must provide the connection. Where the assessed costs exceed that amount, BT must provide the connection if the customer is willing to pay the excess costs.

Ofcom’s conditions set out how BT should assess the costs of providing a connection. BT must take into account that costs may be shared among other customers who could use the same infrastructure. BT must apply this methodology to calculate the costs of each requested connection.

“While the cost of some connections will be high due to the remoteness of many of these premises, we are concerned that BT may not be complying with the regulatory conditions correctly where it assesses excess costs for a given connection. This could result in some customers’ quote for a connection being higher than necessary,” Ofcom said.

BT responds

BT disagrees with Ofcom’s assessment of the delivery of the USO. BT said it is disappointed that Ofcom has opened an investigation. Ofcom is obliged to send USO quotes to customers when they request them and appreciate that for the most remote properties some of these can be unaffordable.

“We’re working to enable communities to be able to share the costs of an USO connection to help drive down costs for individuals. We will launch this as soon as possible,” a BT spokesperson said.

“For some communities, even if they share the costs, the price will remain out of reach. We can connect 400,000 properties without decent connectivity using 4G and for properties where this isn’t suitable we’re already building connections to 4000 premises through the USO scheme. However, it does not overcome the challenges of connecting the most difficult places which represent 0.5 percent of the country,” BT said.

BT recommended the setting up of a task force to find a new solution to address issues. Options could include alternative technologies, such as satellite (including exploration of the role of OneWeb) as well as clarity on the Government’s £5 billion funding for rural full fibre.