Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 16:25 UK

Confused message on UK broadband

A broadband-enabled socket
Will the government be obliged to provide broadband to every home?

Finland has made broadband a 'legal right', leading experts to question whether the UK government is similarly committed.

In a speech to MPs this week, Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms seemed to firm up the government's plans.

He told MPs that the government's promise of broadband to all homes by 2012 was "an obligation".

Previously the government has spoken only of a "commitment", which would not be legally binding.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the comments were "a slip of the tongue" and that the plans for broadband remained a "commitment", meaning they would not be legally binding when they enter the statute book.

The idea of providing a baseline of broadband to all citizens was first touted in the government's Digital Britain report, which lays out its strategy for broadband.

It said that the government would "commit" to a minimum level of 2Mbps (megabits per second) for all homes by 2012.

But in a speech to the All Party Parliamentary Communications Group, Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms appeared to strengthen that commitment.

It comes in a week which sees the Finnish government move a step further than other nations by making 1Mbps broadband a "legal right".

Fibre plans

"As yet the USO [Universal Service Obligation] or USC [Universal Service Commitment] has not been defined properly, the forthcoming Digital Economy bill and various groups working to implement it should hopefully flesh out the detail, but as is often the case we see grand plans announced, which are slowly watered down to cope with those harder-to-deal-with areas," said Andrew Ferguson, editor of broadband news site ThinkBroadband.

"In the UK we are at a juncture where a minister is calling for something tougher than what the original Digital Britain report laid out, but is certainly more in line with what many of the public we suspect always believed the report meant," he added.

The UK already has a USO for fixed line telephones, which means BT must provide service to every home.

However, there are clauses in it which allow the telecoms provider to ask for a contribution from the home-owner if the costs of installation are greater than £3,000.

Finland is also promising to make 100Mbps (megabits per second) broadband via fibre available to citizens by 2015, two years earlier than the UK's plans.

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