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SUNDAY NOVEMBER 22 2020

£500k for broadband? Try £400

When BT charged David Roberts a small fortune, he found an unusual saviour, writes Ali Hussain

A man who was asked to pay more than £500,000 by BT to connect his home to a reliable broadband service has found an alternative solution costing £400.

David Roberts, a retired lawyer who lives in the hamlet of Isel, near Cockermouth in Cumbria, paid about £70 a month to BT for a service that stuttered along at about 1 Mbps. The average UK broadband speed is about 64 Mbps.

Roberts, 65, heard of a government scheme to connect all homes to a reasonable internet service – defined as at least 10 Mbps – called the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

This allows homeowners to ask BT, Britain’s largest broadband firm, to estimate the cost of connecting a property to the national

fibre broadband network. If the cost is £3,400 or less, it will be covered by the company. However, Roberts and his neighbours were astonished to be quoted six-figure sums.

The Sunday Times reported on the case in September. Following this, 4G Internet, a specialist provider, contacted Roberts and offered to connect him using a 4G-based solution, which it successfully did within just two weeks.

It cost £400 to install, with a monthly subscription of £39.99 for unlimited downloads. Although his property is in a particularly challenging location, his broadband speed has now increased over tenfold to about 15 Mbps, which is more than sufficient for his purposes. “I never thought I

could get a service like this here,” said Roberts.

Mobile internet may be less consistent than a fixed-line service but it can be the only cost-effective solution for rural locations. Up to 590,000 properties in the UK have poor broadband and so may be eligible for an upgrade from BT under the USO. This is about 2% of all premises, according to Ofcom, the communications regulator. However it seems that the £3,400 level of funding available all too frequently comes nowhere near covering the costs being quoted by BT, as was the case here.

BT said: “It’s good news Mr. Roberts has a solution. The product isn’t one we could have offered him under the USO but consumers can always look into services from a range of providers.”

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