Broadband must not be forgotten after Brexit

This blog post is part of our Essential Guide: Brexit and the UK technology sector - read our analysis of the implications

In the wake of last week’s vote to leave the European Union (EU), if we are indeed going to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty later in the year – and despite the lingering hope that there might be some sort of loophole to wiggle through, Brexit now seems very likely – there must be a concerted effort to make the best of it.

As our economy crashes and burns, our banks look to relocate and the last of our manufacturing base flees the country, we are going to need to think strategically in order to remain competitive against a 27 member trading bloc that our country has gravely offended, and that will want to see us fail.

And make no mistake, the EU will take us to the cleaners in the negotiations to come… who can really blame them?

One way that we can compete on a level footing to ensure we are light years, and light speeds ahead of them when it comes. We are going to have to have, hands down, the very best connectivity possible. South Korean-style, if possible.

Yes, ultimately this means universal fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) to every home, office and factory in the country, regardless of location. But since we now have even less money than we thought we did, this possibility is now even more remote than it was before the referendum. For now, it’s not realistic to push for it.

Yet the technology already exists to go ultrafast at low cost. technology is not true fibre, but it can deliver speeds of over 100Mbps, in the field, right now, with just a little upgrade in the cabinet. We don’t need to dig the roads up, we don’t need to wait for wayleaves. As the post-Brexit squeeze tightens its grip, suddenly begins to look much more compelling. I believe it is time for us to get behind it.

We face obstacles, for sure. Just a week before the decisive vote, Computer Weekly met with Openreach’s CEO Clive Selley, who said Brexit would materially damage his ability to invest in new engineers and commercial roll-out of broadband. This is a significant concern, and something that must not be allowed to happen. The onus is on Selley to stick up for Openreach and protect it at all costs.

Equally, whoever inherits the government in the next few months will have to take charge of broadband policy. Ed Vaizey, the current minister in charge, is a true supporter of the digital economy and connectivity, but we have to acknowledge that he may be replaced under new leadership. If a new minister is put in charge at DCMS, they must be a powerful and credible voice for our sector.

Britain faces an uphill battle to stay competitive outside the EU bloc. Ultrafast broadband networks will help to keep the British economy competitive in the post Brexit world. We cannot lose our focus now.