How will Brexit affect broadband?

With the UK set to leave the EU by the end of January, we’re looking at how that will affect broadband.

Monday, January 6, 2020

What is Brexit?

I laugh. British citizens, EU citizens, people with internet access all over the world are fed up with this deadly contraction. Over the past 3 years ‘Brexit’ has been an abstract boredom and constant companion for everyone. Maybe once it’s done, we’ll miss it? Probably not.

Why could this affect broadband?

UK telecommunications are part of the EU’s ‘Communications Regulatory Framework’ (RFC). Part of the RFC’s mandate is to ensure that there is healthy competition among ISPs. It is about keeping prices relatively low for consumers and avoiding monopolies. It is unclear whether the UK will adopt the EU framework after Brexit.

However, Ofcom has made a huge contribution within the framework of the EU. It would therefore be reasonable to assume that Ofcom will continue to apply the framework. Ofcom’s recent emphasis on “fairness to customers,” so it appears consumers will remain immune to hostile regulations.

Without needing to negotiate with 27 countries, the post-Brexit freedom to make quick regulatory decisions could be beneficial. The UK could adjust the regulations and make them more specific to the UK telecommunications landscape. For example, they could tighten price regulation for broadband providers, which could mean a fairer deal for customers. With Ofcom’s recent focus on fairness to consumers, all signs point to positive changes for consumers.

Agree or disagree?

However, in terms of infrastructure, there could be negative effects for rural citizens. The London School of Economics conducted research on the possibility of a no-deal Brexit in 2018. Research has shown that rural areas may receive less money for advice following a no-deal Brexit. This would affect the amount available for FTTP upgrade programs. These programs are part of the government’s high-profile commitment to full fiber coverage by 2025.

Other potential effects of a no-deal are the lack of skilled workers. This could affect the number of engineers available for telecommunications. There is also the fact that a lot of equipment or materials used in telecommunications come from the EU. If a trade deal isn’t locked in, costs could skyrocket and availability could be an issue.

Less investment.

A major concern is the general reduction in investment in the UK. While investment in UK technology has reached an all-time high this year, a number of EU funding streams will be halted. For example, in 2018, the investment arm of the EU cut funding for British start-ups. This deprives new technology companies of a key source of support and will have repercussions in the future.

If new tech companies fail to get started, consumers will be at the mercy of the monopoly. This applies to all industries, but especially ISPs. Less choice almost always means less value for consumers.

Even three weeks before the Brexit deadline, no deal is yet set in stone. Crossed fingers!

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