Brexit ‘could harm UK tech investment’

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Broadband Stakeholder Group, representing tech companies and the UK government itself, warns of the consequences of the UK leaving European Union

The UK’s broadband industry has warned that the country’s departure from the European Union may hurt technology investment at a critical time.

The industry is getting ready to invest in 5G mobile and ultra-fast fibre, but these plans are being threatened by the uncertainties of Brexit – Britain’s exit from the EU – says the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG).

“The UK telecoms industry contributes to £30.2 billion to the UK economy. The digital industry, which relies in great part on telecoms services, contributes to £118.4 billion to the economy (16% of the UK economy),” says the BSG, citing UK government figures.

It adds: “According to the European Commission, the UK has the largest telecoms services sector in the EU. It accounts for 18.8% of the €31.8billion of value added by the sector across the EU28 [the 28 current members].”

Richard Hooper, chair of the BSG, said: “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. Government must work with industry to provide as much regulatory certainty in the short to medium term whilst exploring the opportunities that Brexit can offer in the long term.”

The BSG was set up as an advisory group on broadband policy to the UK government. Sponsors include most of the UK’s telecoms and electronic media companies, including BT, Virgin Media and Vodafone as well as TV broadcasters, vendors Cisco and Huawei, and even the government’s own media minister, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The sponsors set the BSG’s agenda.

“Creating and maintaining a favourable environment for sustainable investment in digital infrastructure now and in the future is crucial for the UK economy and consumers,” the BSG tells the government in the report (PDF).

The UK government “can play a key role in supporting the industry by minimising risks to investment and innovation, and creating opportunities for the industry to continue to compete globally,” it says.

“Regulatory predictability during this phase is critical and the government can take measures to help preserve this, including re-committing to the current principles under which the sector operates,” it says. In particular, the report recommends the government should align with the current EU rules, which themselves are being amended, in the medium term.