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UK government body pushes 10Mbps broadband minimum for the poor

Thu 20 Oct 2016

The Local Government Association (LGA) has proposed a social tariff, to ensure that a minimum broadband access of at least 10 Mbps is available to all UK citizens at an affordable price.

The LGA, which represents over 370 local councils throughout England and Wales, has proposed that the government ensure qualifying applicants are able to request a new connection be provided at an affordable cost, should their current broadband fall short of the minimum 10Mbps requirement.

Last November, Parliament announced that it would begin work on a Universal Service Obligation (USO), which would grant all citizens the right to request broadband service with a minimum 10Mbps. At the time, Prime Minister David Cameron said, “Access to the Internet shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be a right – absolutely fundamental to life in 21st century Britain.” The LGA’s proposal would ensure that the service is affordable for all citizens as well.

Research by Ofcom in 2014 showed “marked relationships between socio-economic deprivation and [poor] broadband availability in cities”.  Similar results have been found in rural areas, which means that the demand for increasing broadband service to a minimum level may be high among people with lower incomes.

British Telecom currently offers a subsidized phone and broadband package to qualifying customers, but the LGA proposal would require all providers to offer similar services as part of the UK government’s Universal Service Obligation (USO), expected to be finalized next month. The LGA has included the social tariff proposal as part of their submission to the government, in anticipation of the Autumn Statement on November 23.

Mark Hawthorne, Councillor and Chair of the LGA’s People and Places Board said, “Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, access their bank accounts and even run their own businesses. As central and local government services become more digital, the USO will need to provide faster and more reliable speeds and, for our most vulnerable residents, a subsided connection at an affordable price.

 The LGA recently began the Up to Speed program, which allows any user to test their broadband speeds and maps the results for analysis. They discovered that the quality of connectivity varies greatly from one area to another, and have called for greater transparency in actual download speeds for customers.

Current regulations allow providers to claim ‘high-speed’ download availability in their advertising and marketing if they can prove just 10% of customers are able to achieve those speeds. The LGA is pushing to change this, asserting that it is misleading and does not represent the actual experience of most customers – particularly those in remote or rural areas.

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