Can the EC telecoms directive make it into UK law before Brexit?

Last month, European Commission (EC) president Jean-Claude Juncker laid out three key objectives for a new telecoms framework, to be met by 2025.

These are: to give schools, universities, research centres, transport hubs, public services and digital enterprises access to ultrafast broadband capable of delivering speeds of at least 1Gbps; to give every household in the European Union (EU) access to broadband capable of delivering speeds of at least 100Mbps, that can be upgraded to gigabit connectivity later; and to give all urban areas, major roads and railways 5G coverage, with a 5G network to be made available in at least one major city in each EU state by 2020.

This is one of the largest reforms of European telecoms framework for years. It sets ambitious targets. It is a key signal that the EC sees access to ultrafast, fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband as a necessity as we move towards the connected future. In a way, the reforms mirror signals sent up by Ofcom in its market review earlier this year.

Speaking at an Adtran event earlier this week, consultant Tony Shortall, an expert on telecoms policy, said that the EC was clearly pushing regulators towards very high capacity broadband networks. At the same time, he said, it was was narrowing the range of potential technology solutions. In Shortall’s words, “they don’t say it’s fibre, but they do say it’s not VDSL”.

So what is the process from here on out? The EC’s proposals will go before the European parliament this month, which will then review and develop a position. The Council of Europe will also take a common position, and negotiations will go from there. With a favourable wind, the adoption of the proposals into European law could take place in early 2018.

The Brexit problem

But there is a problem: we might finally have a set date for Brexit. Over the weekend prime minister Theresa May laid out plans to trigger Article 50 in March 2017, which means Brexit will become reality in March 2019.

At the same time, May announced key legislation, dubbed the Great Repeal Bill, that will see all EU legislation transposed into UK law. This means that future governments will be able to keep the good laws, and get rid of the bad laws.

Make no mistake, the EC’s telecoms proposals are good laws. They are by no means examples of the sort of Brussels bureaucracy that 52% of us voted to reject. Far from it. They are an excellent example of the sort of proactive legislation that the EC was designed for, and could bring benefits to millions of EU citizens.

Many business leaders expect that the UK economy will to take one hell of a beating once Brexit actually takes place. So as Computer Weekly has argued more than once, it is absolutely vital the government takes action to bolster Britain’s connectivity. We must act now to give our hard-working businesses, the lifeblood of the economy, as competitive an advantage as possible.

Pushing to adopt the EC’s proposals into European law in time for them to be transposed into British law by March 2019 must now be a key objective for this government.