Government's Better Broadband Scheme extended to 2019

20 December 2018   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Scheme designed to ensure all homes have a minimum upload speed of 2Mb extended until the end of 2019.

Eligible households can use the subsidy to make sure that the first year of their installation and hardware costs are no greater than £400.

The technology solutions supported by the subsidy include satellite, 4G and fixed wireless connections.

Since its launch in 2015, the Better Broadband Scheme has helped 20,000 homes and businesses in hard-to-reach locations boost their broadband speeds.

rural telecommunications tower

Remote areas benefit

The Better Broadband Scheme forms part of the Government's aim to deliver superfast broadband to all properties, including those deemed not 'commercially viable'.

It stemmed from their hope to deliver accessible minimum universal speeds of 2Mb by the end of 2015, but the subsidy was launched when this target was about to be missed.

As of January 2018, 0.7% of UK premises were struggling with speeds of less than 2Mb. That the subsidy has been extended for another year suggests that work is still to be done to connect some of those properties.

Data from 2017 suggested that 10,000 voucher codes had been issued to customers, with £3.1m of the £5m budget utilised. Further information about take-up has not been released.

To be eligible, householders must be able to prove that speeds are currently below 2Mb and that there are no plans for superfast broadband to be rolled out to their area within the following 12 months.

Three speed tests taken at different times of the day must be provided in support of any application to determine the average speeds obtained by a property.

2Mb was previously the benchmark for the Universal Service Commitment that set minimum broadband speeds for all premises in the UK.

This was raised to 10Mb by the Government in 2015, although Ofcom's Connected Nations 2018 report points out that 2% of premises in the UK still fall short of this target.

Superfast broadband remains target

The Government remains committed to rolling out minimum broadband speeds of at least 10Mb to 100% of the UK by 2020.

This includes the Universal Service Obligation (USO) due to come into force in 2019.

The USO is different to the USC mentioned above as the USO is a legal instrument regulated by Ofcom which mandates that customers have a legal right to request a broadband connection of at least 10Mb.

On the specifications provided by the Government in January 2018, Ofcom reported that approximately 3% (925,000) premises in the UK would qualify for the Universal Service Obligation.

However, as with the Better Broadband voucher scheme, the legal minimum will only impact consumers who are, or wish to be, active users of the internet.

This may further disenfranchise those who are already digitally excluded and are unable or unwilling to connect.

Digital exclusion remains an issue

Schemes such as Better Broadband complement Government initiatives to make services 'digital by default'.

The ability to undertake daily activities such as claiming benefits, switching suppliers and accessing online banking is reliant on a combination of effective broadband services and digital skills.

However, figures from the most recent ONS survey show that 8.4% of adults have never used the internet, whether by choice or through lack of opportunity.

This may limit take-up of the Better Broadband Scheme, especially in rural areas where no effective internet access has previously been available and so potential users have grown accustomed to managing without.

Read our guide on the causes of digital exclusion here.

Which broadband deals are available in your area?

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