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Supplementary written evidence submitted by the CBI
DCMS Committee Inquiry on Broadband and the Road to 5G
The CBI welcomes the opportunity to provide further evidence to the DCMS Select Committee Inquiry on Broadband and the road to 5G. The CBI is the UK’s leading business organisation, speaking for some 190,000 businesses of all sectors, sizes and regions that together employ around a third of the private sector workforce. Please find below supplementary evidence to the Committee, as the impact of Covid-19 on the industry and the timeline for gigabit-capable connectivity rollout become clearer.
1. Covid-19 has highlighted the crucial need for world-class digital infrastructure across the UK. Gigabit-capable networks will also drive a jobs-first, green economic recovery
1.1. The value of fast, reliable digital infrastructure across the UK has never been greater. During the crisis, people and businesses have relied on digital infrastructure for social and economic inclusion, powering scalable remote working technologies and social networks to keep in touch with loved ones. Businesses are now even more reliant on good quality connectivity to survive and thrive, from engaging customers and adopting technologies to exporting online.
1.2. Gigabit-capable networks will also drive the Covid-19 economic recovery, enabling greater innovation adoption, job creation, and solutions to support the UK’s net zero target, such as reduced commuting and greater flexibility on where people live and work.
2. The industry has worked quickly and collaboratively to both meet the heightened demand for connectivity during Covid-19 and to minimise the impact of network rollout delays
2.1. The UK’s digital infrastructure has remained resilient during the Covid-19 lockdown, with networks able to meet the substantial increase in demand due to greater home working, online learning and home entertainment.
2.2. Whilst the industry has faced significant challenges, business, government and Ofcom have worked together to prioritise support for key workers and vulnerable customers who have relied heavily on broadband services to stay connected whilst shielding. The industry also signed commitments to support the NHS and other emergency services as the pandemic accelerated. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the industry, government and Ofcom can work together quickly and effectively. This spirit of collaboration must continue as the UK moves past the initial response phase to longer term recovery.
2.3. The industry has also worked hard to minimise disruption and bounce back from the short-term delays caused by Covid-19, for example by focusing on ‘out of home’ work such as building fibre spines, reworking build plans, prioritising legal and back office administration to support deployment, and providing their key workers with the safety equipment needed to carry on working during the lockdown. Early in the lockdown, network builders also faced a number of issues, including differing local approaches on street works restrictions, which were subsequently addressed by government guidance on essential telecoms works. Supply chain disruption also affected build and maintenance work by impacting access to supplies, services and labour, due to ambiguity over the key worker status of some construction partners and concern over their ability to comply with the 2-metre rule.
3. Covid-19 has heightened the urgency of policy reform to remove the barriers that slow the rollout of gigabit-capable networks, and the need for effective demand stimulation
3.1 Whilst the UK’s telecoms network has remained resilient during Covid-19, the longer-term economic impact of the crisis may affect demand in the coming years. For the UK to maintain progress towards the Government’s target for every home and business to have access to gigabit-capable connectivity by 2025, three areas of policy must be urgently fast-tracked by DCMS, Ofcom and HMT. The pace of these changes will directly influence the UK’s ability to become a globally competitive gigabit nation by 2025:
3.1.1 Eliminating on-the-ground challenges that slow rollout and increase its cost. This includes speeding up procurement timelines for the £5bn Outside-In programme so hard-to-reach areas aren’t left behind, ensuring Ofcom’s regulatory reform improves the business case for investors, reforming business rates, and eliminating on-the-ground challenges like land access and planning that slow the build. Government can also support businesses in taking advantage of reduced congestion due to Covid-19 to rollout gigabit networks in previously difficult areas, for example city centres.
3.1.2 Putting gigabit-capable connectivity uptake on an equal footing with rollout, by forming a Connectivity Taskforce to set a strategy to spur gigabit connectivity uptake. Demand for gigabit-capable networks is critical to both the business case and to ensure that businesses and consumers benefit quickly from the new technologies as they become available. Government and business can build on both the public’s focus on digital connectivity, and the spirit of government-business collaboration during the lockdown, to develop a strategic and evidence-based approach that stimulates demand quickly and effectively as new networks are built. Amalgamating this work with government’s wider business and public sector digitisation must be an early priority.
3.1.3 Updating the UK’s 5G strategy to make the UK a global ambassador for 5G industrial applications and unlocking 4G and 5G coverage in all regions. Public sector procurement as well as business adoption will play a significant role in making the UK a leader in 5G applications, whilst government must also play a role in fast-tracking planning changes to support both 4G and 5G rollout, including in harder to reach areas.
3.2 The government should also consider how active labour market and reskilling policies to reduce unemployment in hard hit sectors across the economy may address the telecoms industry’s need for thousands of new workers to build gigabit-capable infrastructure networks. In 2018 it was estimated that delivering full fibre networks to the first 100 towns and cities in the UK would deliver 6,850 jobs. More recently, CityFibre announced a major recruitment and training drive, to create 10,000 jobs over three years to deliver full fibre.
3.3 The CBI will be publishing a report imminently on how the UK can deliver an innovation and technology-led recovery. This will include detailed proposals on bold actions the government can take, in partnership with business, to deliver gigabit-capable networks that support a productive, resilient economy in every region by 2025. Further details are also available in the CBI’s main submission to the inquiry in May 2020.
 CBI Coronavirus Hub, 2020, Virgin Media: Connecting the Country During Lockdown https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/virgin-media-connecting-the-country-during-lockdown/
 Regeneris Consulting, The Economic Impact of Full Fibre Infrastructure in 100 UK Towns and Cities (2018). Produced for CityFibre.