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Government must keep EU telecoms and broadband rules after Brexit

The Broadband Stakeholder Group has published a report on the future of the broadband and telecoms sector, urging the government not to lose touch with EU regulations after Brexit

The UK government can help to maintain certainty around investment in digital communications by remaining aligned with European Union (EU) rules and regulations after Brexit, according to a report from the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG).

The group, which is part of TechUK, has published an in-depth look at the implications of Brexit for the digital communications sector – which is thought to directly contribute around £30bn per annum to the UK economy – detailing some of the risks and challenges for communications service providers (CSPs).

The report noted that Brexit came in the middle of a critical investment period for the industry as nationwide upgrade work continues on next-generation super- and ultrafast broadband networks, mobile services and other wireless technologies.

The BSG argued that creating and maintaining a favourable environment to let this investment continue was going to be crucial to British success on the world stage after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

“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% of the UK’s economy,” said BSG chair Richard Hooper.

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

Hooper said regulatory predictability during the two years it will officially take to negotiate the UK’s withdrawal, and probably for some time beyond, was going to be vital, and recommended the government should continue to align with current EU rules, which are also in the process of being changed.

A significant chunk of Ofcom’s powers and duties falling under the 2003 Communications Act are derived from EU frameworks, and the timing of the revision of these rules by Brussels, combined with the introduction of the Digital Single Market, has raised concern over the impact any changes could have on service buyers, whether enterprise or consumer.

However, the BSG also acknowledged that there were a number of issues that will be outside Westminster’s control because they will form part of the negotiations.

In light of this, the association called for the government to work more closely with industry to help preserve the ongoing implementation of rules governing cross-border services, notably mobile roaming.

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Roaming charges are set to end this summer under EU law, and the prospect of UK consumers only being able to take advantage of this perk for 18 months or so has become a cause célèbre in the national media.

The BSG’s report also said it was essential to retain a seamless level of research and funding co-operation with the EU when it came to the development of emerging technologies, such as 5G, and continue to commit to initiatives to attract pan-European talent to work in the UK’s digital communications sector.

This covers both highly skilled tech workers and lower-skilled labour, which the industry has heavily relied on in the past few years for the roll-out of fibre-based broadband networks.

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