Low-skilled workers key to fibre broadband rollout in wake of Brexit, government told

Brexit

Fibre broadband deployments in the UK could be boosted if lawmakers continue to commit to attracting low-skilled workers, the government has been told.

UK government advisory group the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) made the comments in a new report, Implications of Brexit on the Digital Communications Sector, which included a range of recommendations for policy makers.

The report, which aims to give the government an overview of the sector’s preferred approach for negotiations with the European Union, comes two weeks after the UK triggered Article 50.

It said low-skilled workers had been “particularly relied upon” to deploy fibre broadband networks thus far and that the industry “would welcome continued commitment from government to initiatives to attract resources from across Europe”.

Beyond fibre, the BSG said the UK also relied on researchers from across the EU in areas such as cyber security.

Guaranteeing the status of EU nationals, which the UK has yet to do, should be seen as “a priority objective”, it added.

The report also called on the government to avoid a “cliff-edge” Brexit that, the BSG noted, is happening at the start of a new investment cycle majoring on fibre broadband and 5G.

The overall development of networks and communication technologies are “at risk”, it claimed.

Any changes to the regulatory environment represent an “important risk” to the industry, it added, given a number of services are delivered across borders and are regulated by the EU.

To counter this, ensuring Ofcom and the government continue to have clearly divided responsibilities is one of the key recommendations.

The report suggested the Competition and Markets Authority could act as a “backstop” to ensure Ofcom’s independence from government and scrutinise its decisions.

Another recommendation centred on the need to align UK rules with the EU regulatory framework “in the medium term”, but left the door open to diverging from Brussels on areas “in the longer term”.

“The industry stands ready to engage on any such proposals through government consultation,” it said.

The report also said it was “necessary” to retain EU State Aid rules for broadband, which are designed to protect competition and private investment.

Ahead of the scrapping of roaming rates across the EU in June, the report noted that UK operators must continue to have access to wholesale roaming rates “at or below the EU regulated caps”.

If this were not to happen, costs to operators would rise and consumers would pay more, the report warned.

On cross-border data flows, the government should seek “adequacy” of the UK data protection regime, while it is important the country continues to “retain its international influence in Europe” on spectrum via the likes of the CEPT and the ITU.

The industry also needed further clarity on the government’s objectives with regard to trading arrangements, according to the report.

Richard Hooper, Chair of the Broadband Stakeholder Group said: “This report serves to highlight the complexities of Brexit for the digital communications sector.

“The sector is the bedrock of the wider economy, particularly digital industries which makes up around 16 percent of the UK’s economy.

“Government must work with industry to provide as much regulatory certainty in the short to medium term whilst exploring the opportunities that Brexit can offer in the long term.”

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