The BSG have got our backs.
As you know, on 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union, and on 29 March 2017 the process for exiting the EU formally started when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was invoked by Government. On the 12th April, the BSG released their report and recommendations, urging the government not to lose touch with EU regulations after Brexit.
The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) is the UK government’s leading advisory group on broadband and telecommunications. Established in 2001, the BSG’s diverse network includes telecoms operators, manufacturers, investors, Internet Service Providers, mobile network operators, broadcasters, new media companies, central and local government, Ofcom and others. They have compiled a list of points they want considered to safeguard the future of your business telecommunications.
Included in this list are –
• Continued alignment with EU regulations for the medium term – The UK played a key role in shaping the current, and revised, EU framework. In general, the EU Framework has delivered positive outcomes in the UK over the last 10 years, stimulating competition and bringing significant benefits to consumers. We’ve seen more capable fixed and mobile networks take shape, with new innovative services (4G, ultrafast broadband connections) that are now available to consumers. The coverage of superfast broadband increased from 58% to 89% of premises in just 5 years. We’ve also seen more tariff, contract and provider choice, and lower costs. The UK’s national regulatory regime is derived from the EU Telecoms Framework which is currently under review. The telecoms industry would expect that, during the transition period, the UK telecoms regulations will remain aligned with overall EU regulatory framework to provide legal and commercial certainty, and that afterward the UK should continue this alignment for the medium term. In the longer term, the Government may see benefits in diverging from the EU on certain aspects, and the telecoms industry stands ready to engage on any such proposals through Government consultation.
• Confirming the role of Ofcom as the independent UK Regulator, and as a key contributor to EU policies which will continue to affect UK companies operating in Europe – Given the scale of Ofcom’s valuable contributions and current level of involvement within BEREC (Body of European Regulators in Electronic Communications), BSG recommends the UK should seek to retain an active role for Ofcom within this EU institution. EU policies and legislation will continue to affect, and in some cases apply directly to, UK companies. Ofcom therefore needs to continue its strong collaborative relationship with other EU regulators to ensure the UK telecoms providers are able benefit from future EU regulations and pass those benefits along to their customers.
• Mobile Roaming – The upcoming abolition of additional roaming charges in the EU will benefit UK consumers. It is due to be implemented from 15 June 2017. For UK consumers to continue to benefit from ‘roam like at home’ in the EU and EEA after Brexit, UK operators must continue to have access to wholesale roaming rates at, or below, the EU regulated caps. Without access to these wholesale rates, domestic mobile operators will face significantly higher costs, which will lead to higher roaming charges for UK consumers.
• Cross-border portability of online content services – the European Commission will be introducing a Regulation aimed at ensuring the cross-border portability of online content services in the Internal Market. This would enable citizens of an EU Member State to access their subscription digital content services, such as Sky Go, Amazon Prime, Netflix etc, while temporarily traveling within the EU. It is expected that the new rules will enter into force in all EU Member States shortly, with subscription services required to offer portability by the end of a nine month period. BSG mention that the UK would need to reach a reciprocal agreement with the EU for UK consumers to continue to benefit after Brexit, similar to mobile roaming.
• Audio visual media services – Laws and EU regulations that have helped make the UK a global hub for broadcasting may no longer apply after Brexit. Many international businesses choose the UK when discussing the location of their broadcasting operations within Europe. When the UK exits the EU, and in the case where there is no longer a collaboration agreement with the EU, UK-licensed broadcasters may no longer be guaranteed freedom of transmission to EU Member States and may be required to comply with additional regulation in the Member States of reception. This would be highly disruptive for UK licensed broadcasters and the BSG state the Government should seek to retain the current regulatory regime with the EU. These sectors not only matter in their own right for their role in attracting foreign direct investment, as exports and contributors to UK ‘soft power’, they also have an important role to play in supporting the demand for connectivity through popular online services such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and Sky Go.
• Movement of labour force – The end to the free movement of EU nationals in the UK will likely be a significant challenge for the telecoms industry. The construction industry, which provides the civil infrastructure necessary to deploy Next Generation and fibre networks, relies heavily on labour forces from across Europe. The Government is encouraging the roll-out of fibre networks across the country and needs to support the industry by attracting resources from across Europe, including skilled labour. The UK telecoms also relies on researchers and innovators from across the EU in sectors such as cyber security. To maintain our hard-earned digital communications industry leadership position post Brexit, guaranteeing the status of EU nationals in the UK should be seen as a priority objective for Government according to the BSG report.
• Cross-border data flow – Data flows (for information, communications, audio, video, transactions, inter/intra company traffic, machine to machine links, etc.) are an essential driver to the UK economy. As noted in a recently published techUK report, the UK is a leader in cross-border connectivity accounting for 11.5% of global cross-border data flows in 2015, and this figure is set to increase 5 times by 2021. 75% of UK cross-border data flows are with EU partner countries. Post-Brexit, and after implementation of any new rules by the UK, risks will remain with regard to the secure legal basis on which companies can transfer data in and outside of the EU. The post-Brexit UK will be considered as a third country and as such, would need to demonstrate to the European Commission the “adequacy” of its level of data protection (i.e. the Commission would need to check compliance of the UK data protection regime against EU law). It is key that Government secures “adequacy” of the UK data protection regime during Brexit negotiations, as failure to do so may lead to the “localisation” of data flows on EU citizens outside the UK. This would impact data infrastructure and data centres in the UK, which are among the world’s most active. Data localisation may also impact the UK economy as barriers to trade in data services could increase costs, reduce investment, competition and innovation. Mechanisms other than “adequacy” exist but these involve significant administrative, legal and financial burden which could have an impact on businesses, and in particular Small Medium Enterprises. At international level, the UK will no longer be part of the EU-US Privacy Shield. The UK will therefore need to establish a mechanism to allow data to be transferred to the US and allow data flows to remain uninterrupted.
• Access to EU research funding opportunities – As a result of Brexit, there is the potential that the telecoms sector will lose access to key funding schemes supporting the research and development of emerging technologies (e.g. 5G and Internet of Things) and the deployment of broadband networks. BSG say that retaining a seamless level of research and funding cooperation with the EU in the ICT sector is essential. They also say the Government needs to consider whether it will continue to support programmes which have benefited from EU funding in the past. Access to funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which provided funding for the Superfast Cornwall project, will be lost. £132 million investment was needed to fund the Superfast Cornwall project: £53.5 from the European Regional Development Fund, and £78.5 million from BT.
This is just a handful of points and suggestions from the BSGs report, but they are the ones that may interest or affect you and your business the most. There are, of course, many other points in the BSG report that they recommend the Government to consider, which you can view at your leisure here. And there is more about the BSG and their report here.