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Brexit is paralysing action on broadband, warns CityFibre

Promises made 12 months ago in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review are not coming to fruition quickly enough, and the Brexit crisis is to blame

Gridlock in parliament and ongoing Brexit chaos is preventing the government from introducing the legislation needed to make good on the policies set out in 2018’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), to the detriment of the national full-fibre broadband network roll-out.

Speaking at a Westminster E-Forum event, Next steps for telecoms infrastructure in the UK: competition, network investment and achieving full-fibre coverage, CityFibre’s head of regulatory affairs, Alex Blowers, said he was struggling to get any clarity out of Westminster about how or when the legislative and regulatory logjam might be broken.

“The promises made in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review require continued action by government and legislation to be brought in the second session of parliament, but currently nobody can tell me when the second session will happen,” said Blowers.

Sessions in parliament generally run for a year, since 2012 from springtime to springtime, with each new session beginning on the occasion of the Queen’s Speech.

However, because of the spring 2019 Brexit crisis that ultimately saw the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) extended until at least the end of October, a new session has not yet begun, and with the minority Conservative government locked in battle over its future leadership instead of addressing Brexit, there is no clarity on when progress might be made.

The FTIR, produced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), made 10 key recommendations, several of which require new laws governing, among other things, guaranteed full-fibre broadband connections in all new-build housing developments, and a “right to entry” for operators and network builders to enter flats, business parks, offices and tenanted properties.

Blowers also issued a stark warning to the UK’s likely new prime minister, Boris Johnson, who last month rubbished the current target of national, universal full-fibre coverage by 2033.

“The government has just set a new target for the 100% roll-out of full-fibre broadband – by 2033. As a deadline, that is laughably unambitious,” said Johnson at the time, referring to a pledge that was made in May 2018 by chancellor Phillip Hammond.

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“If we want to unite our country and our society, we should commit now to delivering full-fibre to every home in the land not in the mid-2030s, but in five years at the outside,” said Johnson.

“Let’s say goodbye to the UK’s mañana approach to broadband and unleash full-fibre for all by 2025.”

But Blowers said: “We are not going to get full national coverage by 2025 and, arguably, we are going to struggle to hit it by 2033 if the workforce we need to build those networks is no longer available to us because, post-Brexit, we slammed the door shut on the workers we need to build it.

“There is an inconsistency of thinking there that should be thought through before we talk about introducing more ambitious targets.”

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