CBI Warn Brexit Sucking the Life Out of UK Broadband and Mobile

router with fibre optic cables on top

The Confederation of British Industry has warned that Brexit is “sucking the oxygen out of priorities” like deploying “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband and 5G. Instead the business group wants the Government to “take practical steps this year” in order to close the Digital Divide between London and the rest of the UK.

At present the Government wants 15 million UK premises to have access to Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) by 2025 and then nationwide to all by 2033 (here). In keeping with that their Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which was published last summer, has already set out what further changes need to be made in order to facilitate their future “full fibre” and 5G mobile plans.

Despite this the CBI fears that the pace of progress is still too slow, particularly with the endlessly divisive issue of Brexit continuing to overshadow everything. In that sense they’ve once again echoed last year’s Ready, Set, Connect (PDF) report and warned that if progress isn’t made soon then the UK “risks a growing digital divide that leaves people and businesses behind.”

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:

“There’s is a real risk that 2019 will be a year in which we overlook the rest of our economy.

There’s already a digital divide in rural areas across the UK. Our ability to enjoy world-class digital connectivity shouldn’t be determined by where we live or work. It’s not just a social case for national coverage, but a clear economic one.

Businesses have already invested heavily in digital infrastructure. In fact, the private sector will provide most of the £33 billion total investment needed to deliver full fibre networks across the UK. But Government must help firms access those hard to reach areas.

2019 must be a year of rapid uptake. First by extending support for businesses to help small firms adopt existing technologies like 4G and full fibre. And second, by expanding trials in new technology like 5G so businesses can explore the art of the possible with seamless connectivity.”

The CBI has also identified several areas for the Government to tackle as a priority.

Government Recommendations Include:

* Fast-track laws for firms to install internet connections in existing homes for private tenants and ensuring all new properties have full fibre or other gigabit cables installed when they’re built.

* Equip all new train lines and other transport projects with full fibre cables

* Get businesses ready for 5G adoption by raising awareness of its uses and how firms can use it – through government trials.

We note that two consultations related to improving access for fibre optic broadband into new build homes and existing buildings have already occurred (here), with an outcome expected soon. However it’s worth noting that running fibre alongside all new train lines isn’t likely to help improve overall coverage of Gigabit broadband, at least not by as much as you might think (core fibre coverage already exists in areas around most train routes).

Likewise we’re unsure about the merits of getting businesses “ready for 5G adoption” before the new network and related services have even been deployed or launched (i.e. drumming up interest only to then say, “sorry, it’s not available yet and won’t be here for awhile,” seems unproductive).

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