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Slow action on broadband and 5G risks UK’s economic future, CBI warns

A report from the CBI has called for the government to fast-track legislation to guarantee access to ultrafast network services

Government policy on full-fibre broadband and 5G mobile networks is being overshadowed by Brexit – and Westminster must take urgent action on funding and policy next year or UK businesses risk losing their competitive edge internationally, according to a report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

While the government has set out target dates for the completion of national 5G and full-fibre networks – 2027 and 2033, respectively – the report, Ready, set, connect, sets out a vision that the CBI believes could help policymakers deliver a so-called “buffer-free” future.

“In today’s world, digital connectivity matters more than ever,” said CBI UK chief policy director Matthew Fell. “If data is the new oil, then digital connectivity is the pipe that transports it. Seamless connections, from full-fibre networks to 5G, offer unprecedented opportunities for businesses and consumers across the UK.

“Our country is already home to hundreds of thousands of innovative technological firms, both startups and large enterprises. Business models and workplaces are changing, and more people are either working from a coffee shop, their home or office. They are the backbone of our economy and they all rely on fast and reliable digital connectivity to run their businesses successfully.”  

The CBI’s report makes three key recommendations: first, that the government fast-track proposed laws to ensure every new property has access to full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband and network builders have easier access to land and property; second, that the government establish a cross-departmental fibre and 5G taskforce to join up future infrastructure projects; and third, that the government “turbo-charge” 5G adoption by raising awareness of it among businesses, and helping them learn more about how to use it.

“Action needs to be taken now to unleash our digital economy, which is already worth nearly £184bn,” said Fell. “This means the government must unlock investment, update the law to help everyone get access to gigabit broadband and spur businesses to adopt new technologies.”

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Commenting on the report, Waseem Haq, digital and innovation director at bespoke travel agency Travel Counsellors, said enhanced ultrafast connectivity was essential to support his company’s widely-distributed workforce.

“We have over 1,800 Travel Counsellor business owners operating in seven countries, with 1,100 in the UK, so having the communication technology to enable us to connect, share, motivate and collaborate is imperative,” said Haq.

“What is most important to us is the sense of community we have built among our franchisees and the 400-strong office-based team that support them. This is underpinned by our technology platform that enables us to share invaluable knowledge, product and insight across the global community, ensuring constant connectivity with our customers and, ultimately, enabling the most personal levels of care.”

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