UK Broadband Definition - Does the European Union have a Standard?


The United Kingdom's Ofcom currently describes broadband speeds using the following criteria:

Like in other countries, the United Kingdom's broadband standard is used to determine where and how government money is used to build out broadband infrastructure in constituencies across the country.

Practically speaking, this means that if a home within a constituency has a connection meeting the “acceptable” broadband speed standard, it is not able to utilise public funds to build new network infrastructure on location.

What is the Universal Service Obligation in the UK?

Ofcom established a new Universal Service Obligation (USO) in Spring 2020, requiring providers to meet a minimum expected performance threshold of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.[2]

The previous USO was imposed in 2003 and only permitted citizens to request basic telephone service which could support “data rates that are sufficient to permit functional internet access”, effectively allowing any speed.[3]

Universal Service Obligations are countrywide measures that aim to act as a “safety net” of sorts, priortising “adequate” broadband deployment to every unserved premise in the UK.

According to the UK parliament, residents and businesses are eligible for the USO if:

In this context, “access to a decent connection” is defined as access to “any technology capable of delivering the standard, including wireless networks such as mobile broadband”.

Ofcom estimates from December 2019 claim that approximately 155,000 premises (0.5% of the country) would potentially be eligible for the USO when accounting for fixed-line and wireless connections.[5]

What is a broadband standard?

Minimum broadband standards typically serve as regulatory mechanisms defining the baseline network performance that providers operating within a government’s border must reach.

Often, these standards are used to determine funding allocations, as well as measure broadband deployment in a standardised fashion over time.

Project Gigabit UK broadband Initiative

Project gigabit is an ambitious initiative by the UK government to bring full fibre broadband connectivity to every household in the kingdom. More specifically, it aims to provide service for 85% of premises by 2025, and 100% “as soon as possible” after that.[6]

The programme will utilise a £5 billion investment directly from the UK government in order to achieve this lofty goal. The first contracts to be awarded are currently expected to roll out in the first half of 2022.

In a fall 2021 update, the government claimed that 60% of all households would have gigabit-level speeds available by the end of the year. Additionally, a second £8 million funding round has been announced, aiming to deliver full fibre to 3,600 premises in Scotland (part of the Scottish Government’s R100 project). £25 million was also announced toward connecting rural regions of Northern Ireland.[7]

UK vs EU – Which has a more ambitious broadband performance target?

Unlike the UK, the European Union does not currently employ a specific, standardised definition for broadband services.

For all intents and purposes, however, the EU aims to deliver a minimum of 30 Mbps download speeds across all member countries.

In 2016, the European Commission additionally announced that it intended for all households to have access to a minimum of 100 Mbps+, with businesses and the public sector being told to expect gigabit speeds.[8]

UK vs US broadband standards

In the United States, broadband is defined as any connection meeting a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. This standard was put in place in 2015 and has not changed since.[9]

Unlike the UK, there are no other “tiers” of broadband used for funding purposes in the United States. The 25/3 metric is the baseline for all federal funding initiatives, as well as the baseline for the country’s mapping and reporting efforts.

That said, some individual states – like California and New York – have established their own breakpoints for state funding.