Broadband is not an automatic right in rural areas of the UK

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While most of the UK enjoys fast (or superfast if you want to swallow the rhetoric) broadband, there are still numerous pockets plagued with dial-up speeds. Talks had been underway between the government and broadband providers about whether the aim of providing broadband access to 95 percent of the country by the end of 2017 was ambitious enough.

But it is the remaining 5 percent that’s concerning. 95 percent coverage might sound impressive, but 5 percent of the population is still a huge number of people. The government has now decided that broadband is not a right to which households are entitled. Rather than forcing providers to install connections for everyone, the Universal Service Obligation (USO) will require homes and business to submit requests for connection; and, despite the name, there is no obligation for these requests to be honored.

Cost, it seems (unsurprisingly), is the concern. The argument is that millions could be spent hooking up every household and business to a broadband connection only to discover that a large proportion of them did not want or need such a connection. Considering the very loud and vocal complaints from rural residents who battle with slow connections at the moment, this would appear to be an unlikely scenario, but it's the one that the government is concerning itself with.

The government said:

Given the high costs of providing broadband access to premises in remote areas it is right that this is done on request, rather than rolling it out and waiting to see if people in those areas want to be connected.

We know from the various interventions that the government has made to date that it is unlikely that everyone will want to be connected, even if that option is made available to them, and so we do not believe that an additional broadband rollout programme at this time is proportionate or would represent value for money.

If the introduction of the Universal Service Obligation sounds disappointing, it gets worse. The USO will not even come into action until -- in all likelihood -- 2020, so rural households face a four-year wait before there is even an official system in place through which they can request a fast broadband connection. Who knows how long after such a request is placed a connection might actually materialize.

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