Insights Ofcom consults on modifying universal broadband service rules


Ofcom has published proposals to amend the universal broadband service rules to clarify how BT should provide quotes to customers who have applied to be connected under the scheme.

The Government introduced the universal broadband service to give everyone the right to request a decent and affordable broadband connection, subject to certain eligibility criteria. Under the scheme, BT will pay the cost of connecting eligible properties, providing the cost is £3,400 or less. If the required work costs more, the customer can choose to pay the difference.

Ofcom says that BT must take into account that costs may be shared among other customers who could use the same infrastructure. However, BT has not been doing this in the way Ofcom expected and some customers have been asked to pay materially higher amounts than they should have been.

Ofcom opened an investigation into this and as a result, BT has agreed to change its approach for quotes where the cost of connecting a property is not significantly above the £3,400 threshold. BT has also agreed to refund affected customers and re-issue quotes it has previously provided. Ofcom has therefore suspended its investigation, but will monitor BT’s actions closely to ensure Ofcom’s concerns are addressed.

Ofcom is also proposing to modify its Universal Service Obligation rules to clarify that where excess costs are very high, BT should inform customers of the total excess costs and gain agreement to cover these before delivering the connection. One or more customers in the local area can then cover all the excess costs of the build, including shared infrastructure.

Ofcom says that these changes and BT’s assurances will result in a number of customers receiving lower quotes in the future, but the cost of connecting some properties, including those in the most remote parts of the UK, will remain very high. Ofcom says that it will continue to work with industry and the Government to explore alternative technology and funding solutions for these hard-to-reach properties, which face very high excess costs to receive a decent broadband connection.

The consultation closes on 10 September 2021 and Ofcom intends to publish its decision by the end of 2021. To access the consultation, click here.