Brexit offers opportunity to deliver broadband improvements,

Cheaper, better quality broadband could be a ‘digital dividend’ of the Brexit process, if the UK Government takes a more ambitious approach to the digital sector, according to a new report commissioned by the Carnegie UK Trust.

Writing for the Trust, William Perrin, a former communications policy advisor in the Downing Street Policy Unit, has analysed the potential implications of exiting the EU on the UK’s digital economy and identified a series of issues where action could be taken to deliver more substantive benefits for UK consumers.

The report suggests consumers could benefit from better services, prices and improved customer service in digital markets such as broadband and mobile phones, if the UK chooses to employ tools such as retail market regulation – an intervention which has been much talked about in the domestic energy market, but which diverges from the standard EU approach for communications.

It also suggests that there could be new impetus to tackle the UK’s ongoing rural broadband issues by looser state aid rules, which would make it easier for national and local government to support small and medium-sized companies delivering broadband in the most remote areas, and introducing a more dynamic procurement regime post-Brexit.

William Perrin said: “The UK Government’s approach to digital Brexit is to focus on stability.  They are working very hard on key issues such as data flows. In the short term, this is welcome and provides certainty for consumers and businesses.   However, Brexit offers the opportunity to diverge a little from the EU norm – consumers can benefit from smarter regulation that suits the UK market conditions rather than the EU average.  These are not major changes and could be achievable in the negotiation if prioritised. It’s up to ministers to seize this and set out a vision for the digital Britain that delivers a Brexit digital dividend for consumers.”

“We have not identified a strong citizen or consumer voice involved in helping to shape the UK’s approach to the digital sector post-Brexit.  Government advisory groups on communications are packed with companies but no consumer groups.  Steps should be taken to address this gap as a consumer input can provide valuable insight to key issues. The voice of business in this space is well-coordinated, but a consumer perspective is also required”.”

The report also outlines risks for digital consumers as a result of the UK exiting the EU. It points to a possible decline in the number of international workers operating in the digital sector as well as the fact the UK will become a smaller market for companies launching new products and services . This bring risks of higher prices and reduced choice for consumers after Brexit, unless the sector succeeds in stimulating competition and innovation.

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