back to article BT to be freed from service obligations

Communications minister Lord Carter is to free BT from its universal service obligations - its legal duty to run a phone line to every home in the country, as well as provide payphones and other basic services available at a reasonable cost. Instead Carter is expected to call for universal broadband access, wireless or wired, …


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  1. JimC

    Oh joy...

    No payphones, mobiles only if you're out in the sticks. sopunds wonderful. Just what you'd expect from a bunch of townies...

  2. Anonymous Coward

    "... looking at the future of DAB radio ..."


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In The Country

    Does that mean that if you are lucky enough to live in the countryside you can forget about getting a new phone line installed at a reasonable price?

  4. Dan Atkinson

    About time too

    BT's been private for far too long to be tied to the public service obligations of a nationalised company. It'll be interesting to see who gets lumbered with the red boxes though.

  5. pctechxp

    stand by for massive line rental hikes

    Oh dear, looks like I'll be offline at home soon then as I'm not paying more than a tenner a month for a landline that exists only to support ADSL.

  6. Tom Oliva

    Trade Descriptions Act?

    They was specifiically exempted by Maggie - I think I'm right... recall some bloke in Scotland applying for his "£80 phone installed anywhere" as per the ad and being told nope - that'll be £32,000 thank you.

    Just shows how far this "load of socialists" have come from their roots eh?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Devil is in the detail

    It's time something was done, but we'll have to see how it pans out. The price+performance difference between areas with LLU (and cable) and areas without is getting dafter by the month, and BT's much overhyped 21CN comes with regional broadband pricing which is only going to make these matters worse.

  8. Rob Beard


    So if BT don't have to provide a phone line, can they provide Fibre To The Premises instead?

    I'll keep dreaming I think.


  9. gautam

    'ere we go again !

    Time to leave Blighty ! Indeed a sad event. So no one will give a shit about laying new lines or cables, and milk those who have them, to the hilt.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Bad move

    They should be increasing the USO, not abandoning it.

    Basically BT are having difficulty achieving their obligations so they petition to get rid of those obligations... sounds very much like a child... a spoiled one.

    The USO should really be minimum of 512kbps to every home, or at least 256kbps... rather than the measly 28.8kbps that it is at the moment (and I know people who would like broadband but BT are unwilling to provide it, so they're stuck at 28.8k)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sort of good!

    Lets let market forces pick the bastards apart!

    Unfortunately, they own the only comms network round here, so lets hope that consortium scheme works!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Somehow I think BT are going to get rid of the vast majority of payphones at a stroke

  13. Alex

    so cut the cords...

    and make BT behave like any other private company, no more fingers in the pockets of ministers?? eh??

    I wonder where Lord Carter stands on the Phorm debacle?

  14. David

    BT doing nowt

    Gawd knows what BT will be like if this goes ahead! Gone are the days of it being a public service and a government department after the sell-off (or perhaps "sell-out" would be more appropriate!). I was an engineer in those halcyon days when the job had a some status and there was actually some half-decent service to the public. My current experiences of the present BT incarnation have not been good, as they have cocked up two house moves - one of which should have been the simplest job imaginable, as I moved about 600 metres down the lane and the existing line (the physical wires) went past the premises. "Easy peasy", I told the obviously non-technical girl on the end of the line. "Just get the engineer to ring me first and I can make life easy for him", quoth I. It was, literally, just a case of diverting the existing line into the new place from the pole outside and altering the paperwork to suit. It didn't happen. My broadband got cut off in the exchange and the performance to get everything back to the way it was had to be experienced to be believed. They also managed to chop my neighbour's line off in the process. Doh!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Pesky customers really are at the root of BTs problems, better they shed a few million of the less profitable to cut some of those irritating and onerous costs. Their long term aim ought to be to have only a single central London based customer on a 3 million year (rolling) contract, with a rather astronomical monthly line rental for phone/broadband/IPTV. They could increase revenue by just sending him goods he may want based on his browsing habits and adding them to the monthly bill!

    Just think! No more advertising costs! The call centre (staff of one) could be outsourced to a bloke with a mobile and a notebook in a Mumbai slum - if they buy an extra thick notebook he could double as the billing department! Further savings could be made by cutting out copper (and indeed electronics!) entirely by utilising the latest PAP (Pen And Paper) delivery system for (transcribed) web content, the only investment required being a really chunky A4 airmail pad for the outsourcing contractor.

    Paris, cos like BT customers, she knows when she's getting a good rogering

  16. Tony Hoyle

    Badly thought out..

    How can 'the industry as a whole' have an obligation to provide broadband. Each operator will just pass the buck onto someone else, with nobody ultimately being responsible for it.

    BT have a privileged position in that they own most of the infrastructure. In return for that continued privilege they have obligations such as the USO. If they truly want to be free of the obligations then they should relinquish the privilege as well - give the last mile back to public ownership so it can be offered on an equal basis for all operators.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    RE: BT doing nowt

    The funny this is even the BT Engineers themselves now have to wait in an Indian call centre queue.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "an obligation for the industry as a whole"

    I see the same sort of outcomes as in organizations labelled "institutionally racist" - none of them have a single mirror to point into.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Last Mile

    The "last mile" and the "USO" are, surely, part and parcel of the same thing.

    As I undertand the world, Transco owns the gas pipes and Utilities pay to push gas down them, Grid companies own the electicity cables in the street and on the pylons and Utilities pay to push volts down them. It all seems to work. If BT wants out of the USO, it gives the "last mile", in its entirety, to a new "BandwidthCo" who, in exchange for all this free infrastructure, accept the burden of the USO. BT, now just another LLU operator, and all the other LLU operators then pay BandwidthCo for the privilege of pushing calls down the wires.

    With a central billing point established, it should then be easy enough to raise an industry-wide levy (including existing cable/fibre operators) to pay for the upgrading of this new national network to international standards.

    PS: All existing connections, by whatever method, of over 8Mbit/s are to be throttled to 8Mbit/s (peak) until such time as ALL connections can exceed this. Pressure from metropolitan areas wanting their profitable Gigabit interactive TV should speed the roll-out to rural areas.

  20. Florence Stanfield
    Thumb Down

    Government doing deals with BT.

    If this is allowed then any company should be allowed to fit a telephone line to customers house. The rule for ADSL has to be a BT line has to be removed also so any line supplied from any company is allowed with any ISP.

    Either full open market or stay locked as BT is now can't have it both ways, bT cannot be sole owner of network if not held tot he obligation.

    Any more daft Ideas looney Labour?

  21. Tim


    Hmm, If BT are less involved then maybe there's the chance we will get VDSL at last. Though it will be obsolete by then I guess.


  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Erm, any company can fit a telephone line to a customer's house today.

    BT don't have a 'lock' - as evidenced by Virgin media also operating a network.

  23. Mark

    If this is allowed

    I'd like to charge BT for running a business over my property.

    After all, it IS *my* property and they are making money from what I've paid for.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Should be what we need. It's time has come!

    Defining a universally available bandwidth and quality within the 'up to' claims should work. 500kbps both ways within the up to 8mbps, 24mbps or 50mbps is achievable. The challenge will be getting and enforcing a minimum quality - e.g. 97% packets delivered within 50 milli-seconds.

    It will force increased transparency of current broadband services and force mobile companies to use planning rules for their data services.

    A deal to replace some of the 62000 public payphones with some more public wifi in our towns muncipal housing would be money better spent.

    A deal to replace the text phone service with a Broadband based visual service looks to be overdue for the deaf community.

    Perhaps each ISPs contributes to the value of their combined fixed/mobile market share!

    Finally, a Digital Receiver wirth a browser and wifi connectivity!

    The ISPs (Fixed and Mobile) have treated best efforts Broadband as an add on to existing services. Many of us users consider Broadband more important than the 1970 legacy phone service which all operators seem determined to emulate in their 21C's. All we need is a Broadband service with which can assure services. I consider my phone rental to be part of my broadband charge, ditto for mobile going forward.

    I hope the consultation gets out before the spectrum auctions, some of that spectrum could be useful if the call for the USO is to be taken seriously.

    The accountants in BT will probably continue to miss the true nature of what is possible with Broadband even a properly managed 500Kbps bi-directional service for all.

  25. Adrian Waterworth

    The trouble is...

    ...that we have a number of national infrastructure systems in place that are neither one thing nor the other. On the one hand, and for historical reasons that we all know well enough, companies like BT have ended up owning most of the physical infrastructure and being responsible for the costs of its maintenance, upkeep and upgrading, while being placed under USOs to ensure that everyone can have access. On the other hand, they are supposed to be private (free market) companies, but they can't really act like one 'cos of what we've just said. Basically, the whole "privatise everything we can" phase of the eighties and early nineties wasn't necessarily a bad idea per se, but it was generally implemented in the most cocked-up manner possible - practically guaranteeing all kinds of headaches and assorted crapness further down the line.

    Taking a completely laissez-faire, free market sort of view, if our telecoms industry (and other utilities) are going to be proper privatised industries, then either everyone who wants to play in the market should have to meet specified USOs or no-one should. However, if you go down that route in the telecoms case (for example), then BT probably needs to hand back the actual communications infrastructure (exchanges, lines, etc.) into public ownership and everyone leases their lines from some quango or other at a set rate. Either that or some settlement figure has to be reached for BT to "buy" the infrastructure outright and, if someone else wants to get into the telecoms game, they've got to build their own network. Or at least lease it from someone else at a completely open commercial rate (i.e. not specified, dictated or limited by Ofcom or other forms of Government nose-poking).

    It's a knotty problem though - if you go down the public ownership of the network route, all the free-marketeers will kick off that it won't be as fair, efficient or cheap as a completely commercial solution (not necessarily true, but certainly possible and that is definitely what will be said). Conversely, if BT were to have to pay something to own the network outright with no USO or other constraints, it'll probably just make everything a lot more expensive in the short to medium term. (Plus the fact that, if I were BT in that scenario, I'd try to make a bloody good argument that the costs of maintaining and upgrading the network over the last couple of decades should count as a large contribution that has already been paid!)

    Of course, it's still true that BT manage to cock up lots of things in their own right (and I'm speaking here both as a customer and an ex-employee). But that's a separate issue. I'm just saying that the overall situation isn't helped by the slightly bizarre, neither here nor there, position that history has put the company in.

    If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I would say that returning certain key physical infrastructures (comms, power, water, etc.) to some form of coordinated public ownership may well be the best way to go in the end, with commercial companies then leasing capacity on the physical network to provide the end service to the customer. The commercial companies then have to make sure that whatever they are charging for the service that they provide is enough to cover their costs, including network leasing charges. In other words, there has to be some real "value-add" in there too - whether that be in terms of convenience, customer service, guaranteed service levels, extra goodies or whatever. Of course, at the same time, all of us punters would also have to relearn the old adage about only getting what you pay for. (And yes, I know that this is similar to the model now in place on the railways, which hasn't exactly been a glowing success, but I believe that the current situation there isn't a fault with the general model as much as a problem with the recent history of the rail network and the glorious privatisation cockup that was Railtrack.)

    Anyway, failing that, we go down the complete free market route as discussed earlier, or the complete nationalisation route (that may or may not work), or we accept the status quo. In the last case though, we must also accept that if some companies are to be placed under USOs or other regulatory constraints that do not also apply to their competitors, then those companies should be allowed a certain degree of privilege in return. And if that privilege takes the form of owning most of the infrastructure (but being forced to lease it out to the competition) then they should still be allowed to make some money out of it in return for playing nice.

    Failing ALL of that, would the last person to leave the country just turn off the lights? (Assuming that the power hasn't already gone off by itself...)

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So if you want broadband and it is the industry as a whole that is obliged to provide it, which particular company do you complain about when you don't have it? Is it a case of splitting responsibility so that no one has any responsibility worthy of consideration? Where they all point at each other?

    The government needs to work out that if believes each citizen is entitled to something, then the government should be the one to provide it; not expect the market to pick up the unprofitable or insufficiently profitable work out of some sense of duty.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I've just been reading up on this 21CN malarkey, and their website is very odd.

    For one, why is there a naked baby on every other f*kin page?

    Will the new network be unable to communicate well with adults, and shit itself continuously throughout the day?

    This quote is what gets me so far:

    "Will everybody in the UK get a 24Mbit/s broadband service?

    The ADSL2+ equipment deployed in exchanges supports a theoretical maximum speed of 24Mbit/s and end customer lines will deliver the highest possible stable speeds they can support. However, distance from the exchange, internal wiring, interference from electrical appliances and other factors will continue to affect an end user’s broadband speed.

    But there is more to next generation broadband that speed..."

    Theoretical maximum of 24Mbit! When VM are already trialling 50mbit?

    Oh and who decided on "CN"? The second it doesn't work, I can imagine the word that'll come to people's minds, featuring those two letters

  28. Nigel Thomas

    What about Openreach

    Surely the whole point of Openreach and the current massively expensive programme of "physical separation" between Openreach, BT Retail, BT Wholesale and BT Global Services is so that Openreach can be the regulated Transco / National Grid / Network Rail equivalent.

    Why not just complete the separation of Openreach from the rest into goverment owned, or non-profit public company paid for by charging BT and the others for their use of the last mile? Give the USO to Openreach and leave the rest of BT free to sink or swim.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So if I lived somewhere properly remote - say Sark - and I wanted Tesco to deliver my shopping to me, would people expect them to have some kind of USO so that I just pay £10 and everyone else subsidises the helicopter to bring my shopping to me? Or say I'm on a low income - perhaps I should pay a reduced rate for the shopping and expect everyone else to subsidise my food?

    Certainly if I live somewhere remote and I want mains electricity or gas, the companies will charge me the cost of the connection or decline to connect me at all. Why is Telecomms different?

  30. Anonymous Coward

    @Why is Telecoms different

    It's not that telecoms is different, it's that (allegedly regulated?) monopolies are supposed to be different. Tesco allegedly aren't a monopoly yet, though where I leave it's not far off, so they're allowed to operate under classical "free market" rules. BT were a monopoly, parts of them (specifically Openreach) still are a monopoly, and in return for that monopoly being continued, certain obligations (such as the telephone USO and the obligation to provide payphones) were imposed or continue to be imposed. Equally, those parts of BT where BT still hold "significant market power" (ie many of them, again especially Openreach, but also the wholesale broadband provided by BTwoolsale which is used by most UK ISPs because there isn't another credible wholesaler) are supposed to be regulated (though it's not usually obvious on whose behalf the nice people at Ofcon are actually acting on the odd occasions when they do visibly act).

    Joke? Ofcon.

  31. Mark Baker

    BT's phone service != the physical lines

    I don't mind relaxing the USO a little if BT can relax its grip on the intrastructure.

    I'll pay BT Openreach (or whoever actually owns the line) rental on the line, but I do object to being forced to pay for a phone service I don't want or use.

    Or even better, get the ISP to pay the line rental as part of my bill. Or is that just too sane?

  32. richard tanswell

    Similar to the French!

    Has anyone ever tried to setup ADSL/SDSL in France, in particular Paris?? No mattr who the ISP is, they tend to royally fuck it up and it takes almost as long as it does for a snail to walk to Paris! Bearing in mind the delay from them eating it on the way!

  33. Anonymous Coward

    Consequences therein

    As part of the review any assets and belongings acquired by BT while it was the "only" should also be offered to incoming tenders.

    Any assets and chattels acquired by BT in its transition from nationalized (and only) telecoms giant to private company status should also be released to tenders.

    That is, for example, should service or provisioning currently provided by BT go out to tender and is won by another organization then the lines, cables, equipment, ... et al should be transferred to the incoming organization.

    I mention the above just in case BT (like the mineworker solicitors, fee-earners pre-NHS and so forth) decide to fleece a well meaning but dreadfully inept (in some respects) government and even duller witted (un)civil service?

  34. Anonymous Coward

    And speaking of the effects of poor regulation

    Where was the aforementioned Communications Minister Carter before he was "Lord" Carter of TonysCronys?

    Well he was at Ofcon for a while, and before that he was in charge of something many people called NTHell.

    So, given that we all learn from our mistakes, he must have learned a lot, right?

  35. Andy Davies


    so you're an ex GPO engineer, and you wanted your copper moved 500 yds - so what was your problem? Don't you have a ladder and a pair of pliers?

    AndyD 8-)#

  36. Mark
    IT Angle

    re: Hmm

    But if Tesco wanted to use some of my land to allow access to their superstore, they would pay me for access or buy my property.

    Why does BT get treated differently? They get free access to my house over my property, sell access to my telephone and computer and now also read my private communications and sell what they see. They're making money off MY real property AND my intellectual property.

    Tesco would have to pay me for this.

    Why doesn't BT?

  37. Anonymous Coward

    @anonymous coward 5/1 14:23


    By Anonymous Coward Posted Monday 5th January 2009 14:23 GMT

    Erm, any company can fit a telephone line to a customer's house today.

    BT don't have a 'lock' - as evidenced by Virgin media also operating a network.


    Erm no they don't, they have some regional infrastructure, try and get virgin in Aberdeen... go on dare yah

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