“That Ole Devil Called USO Again”
“It’s that ole devil called USO again,
Gets behind us and keeps giving us the shove again….” (That Ole Devil Called Love Alison Moyet TOTP Xmas Special)
Finally, after years of dithering, the government has decided to tackle the USO. The Universal Service Obligation *should* permit every householder and business the legal right to receive a service of a given minimum standard. This time round, it is purported to be a speed of 10Mbps. Currently, it is 28.8kbps.However, as ever, there are more than a few caveats already in place before next year´s open discussion of the proposal by Ofcom.
The first of the carefully crafted phrases to put up a flag is: “legally entitled to request to receive….” In actuality, as many discovered last time round, what this means is that BT is legally obligated to give you a connection but if it costs more than a specified amount to do so (£3400) at present, any Excess Construction Charges (ECC) will land as a bill on your doormat. So yep, you have a right to request a connection but there is zero provision in that legal Obligation to get it to you whatever the cost.
Right now, you can legally request 10Mbps too, but the fact is you may not receive it. Not without stumping up in ECC what the equivalent to buying a couple of houses outside of the Home Counties. And in that, nothing will change with this latest announcement, reviews or even a diktat from the government in the way of a regulation.
It is worth a few moments reading of El Reg comments “What´s with the ambition?” to get a drift of how that conversation will go, now and in the future!
There are, as far as I know, still people sharing party lines in the UK who cannot get any flavour of ADSL and for whom the current USO has provided no protection from BT´s “not economically viable” statement. One place had 5 or 6 lines between 15 houses, IIRC, thereby clearly breaking the legal provision of even a single phone line to each house, let alone 28.8kbps. (Unless there were twisted triples!)
The second carefully considered (um, not?!) part of this announcement that should raise a huge red flag is the a) use of speed as a standard and b) the pathetic number associated with tech requirements in 2020 – which let´s face it is 5 years away. Firstly, as has been pointed out to govt multiple times, the speed of a connection means very little. This message, despite 20 years or so of shouting it in their ears, appears to be landing on fallow ground.
Despite attempts by the UK constituency – citizens and business – to point out that the current level of broadband is broadly NOT fit for purpose, Ofcom, ASA and others continue to permit connections to be marketed (missold?) on speed claims that are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard in informing users what can be expected once they have forked out what is not an inconsiderable amount of cash for many. In addition to this, the joys of contention over an increasingly aged and unloved first mile network became more and more apparent as more of your neighbours got broadband and started to use it.
Further yet to that, other nations are proudly boasting their gigabit ambitions and we opt for 10Mbps? Sorry, but WTF?! Logic has clearly put on its coat and left the halls of Westminster. How can we compete in 2020 and beyond if a considerable portion of the country is stuck on 10Mbps? And let us get this right, it will be a considerable proportion of the country.
You can manipulate statistics as much as you wish (usually for votes or market share) but the truth will always out. Only this week, an admission was made in Parliament that 83% of the country has broadband. Not superfast or gigabit but simple vanilla broadband. So, all those claims, way back when, that 99.7% of the country had broadband were to put it bluntly UNTRUE. Just as the next round of stats about superfast will be, and we all know it. Cameron does not need to worry, he will be doing a Blair and earning plenty money on the speaker rounds, holding Non-Exec Directorships and cavorting with the wealthy, to give a damn whether or not he delivered.
On a final note, before this post goes into even more detail about why the USO promise is worth nothing: “Just as our forebears effectively brought gas, electricity and water to all, we’re going to bring fast broadband to every home and business that wants it,” stated Cameron.
He needs a quick history lesson about just WHO it was who began to deliver those utilities, particularly into rural areas – communities. Not policy wonks in Westminster or suits in Whitehall. It was towns and villages, and particularly enlightened individuals, up and down the country, who began to bring those utilities – electricity and water and even telephones – to the masses. Then, once it became obvious just how much money there might be in providing these utilities on a national basis rather than letting communities and entrepreneurs mop up the income, government stepped in.
And that, my friends, is where communities need to take their heads out of the sand, read a little history about YOUR community and discover just who it is who generally solves these issues at a local level. Stop thinking the government and BT will provide. Take the initiative, look at projects like B4RN, like Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, CityFibre. There are many ways to skin a cat and it can be done far more quickly than at 10Meg and for far less money than the lie that became truth of £15bn.
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