Rural broadband campaigners have vowed to fight any attempt to water down a new law that would enshrine a legal right to superfast broadband, following lobbying of Ministers by BT.
In April 2017 the Digital Economy Act became law, marking the culmination of almost 20 years of campaigning by the CLA against discrimination for those who live and work in rural areas from having access to the internet infrastructure they need. Power to enforce a Universal Service Obligation (USO) was conferred on Ministers by the legislation, and Ministers previously committed to enacting the law so that it comes into force from 2020.
Under the law every household or business premises would have a right to an internet connection of a legally set speed, suggested as initially 10 megabits per second. BT Openreach, the largest provider of fixed line broadband infrastructure, has consistently opposed the USO, arguing that it should be left to deliver near universal service on its own terms. Reports over the weekend suggest that Ministers are considering acceding to BT’s demands.
CLA President Ross Murray said: “We will fight any attempt to water down the hard won legal right to broadband for rural homes and businesses. For too long, rural areas have been at the back of the queue when it comes to investment in infrastructure and that is why this legal principle is not something to compromise on.
“The Universal Service Obligation is necessary because it creates an inalienable right that can be enforced by the premise owner. It cannot be replaced by a cosy deal with just one company allowing it to deliver connection how it sees fit.
“Accountability for delivering the rollout of broadband has been a closed shop discussion between the industry and the regulator for too long. It is this that the USO would end, making the consumer the enforcer. It’s no wonder BT Group doesn’t want that.”