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We must act now to jump-start 5G rollout, or a once-in-a-generation opportunity could be lost

We must act now to jump-start 5G rollout, or a once-in-a-generation opportunity could be lost

The Government is putting an economic prize of up to £42bn at risk by failing to address issues with the rollout of 5G, writes Andrew Bowie MP. | PA Images

3 min read

5G has huge potential – but progress towards delivering this technology is stalling. With simple and cost-free additions to legislation, Britain could be set back on the path towards achieving its digital connectivity ambitions.

It is an irony that the parts of the country that would benefit most from modern connectivity, our rural communities, are the ones at risk of being left behind when improvements in connectivity are made.

Mobile telecommunication and high-speed broadband should make doing business and connecting to the outside world, easier for rural Britain. However, due to failures at all levels, many outside urban Britain are left with slower download speeds and poorer mobile phone coverage.

I know this well as my constituency has one of the worst connectivity rates of any in the whole United Kingdom.

Our relationship to technology has changed rapidly over the past six months. We no long feel guilty about spending every minute of the day illuminated by the blue glow of our mobile phone screens. Stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic and limited to small gatherings and reduced household mixing. Our phones have enabled us to feel connected.

They have been essential for working, educating our children and staying in touch with friends. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us high quality connectivity is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’. It is fundamental to participating in the modern world.

5G promises so much more than revolutionary connectivity. Its economic benefits are undeniable too. That’s why a report launched this month by the Centre for Policy Studies showing the Government is putting an economic prize of up to £42bn at risk by failing to address issues with the rollout of 5G in the UK is worthy of our attention.

The CPS report, “Upwardly Mobile: How the UK can gain the full benefits of the 5G revolution”, adds to the growing body of evidence that 5G has huge potential – but that progress towards delivering this technology is stalling.

In Westminster, the challenge of ensuring we have safe and secure 5G is well-known, but what is less understood is that the rollout of this new technology is at risk.

Grey areas and ambiguities in the law have drastically slowed down the process of upgrading our infrastructure so it is 5G-ready

The Government’s legislation for delivering this new technology – the Electronic Communications Code – isn’t working. And that needs to change. With simple and cost-free additions to this important piece of legislation, Britain could be set back on the path towards achieving its digital connectivity ambitions.

The Code, last updated in 2017, was supposed to help providers lower the cost of building, maintaining and upgrading infrastructure, and spark the rollout of new technology. But grey areas and ambiguities in the law are tying the process up in red-tape and have drastically slowed down the process of upgrading our infrastructure so it is 5G-ready.

As the Government grapples with the fits-and-starts of covid-19 recovery and seeks to deliver on its political promise to ‘level up’ the midlands and the north of England, delivering 5G on time is more important than ever.

All of this means, in CPS’ words, that this “is no time to be passive”. The CPS, supported by a new cross-industry organisation called Speed Up Britain is arguing for targeted changes to the Code which can release the handbrake on our digital progress and jump-start our economic recovery.

CPS recommends amending the Code to clear up ambiguity, discourage counterproductive behaviour and establish a list of ‘trusted practice’ landowner representatives who are committed to fair-dealing and upholding the spirit of the Code.

If we act now to jump-start infrastructure rollout we could capture a significant opportunity to deliver exactly the kind of broad-based, inclusive and constructive economic growth the Government is seeking to foster though its ‘levelling-up agenda’.

If we don’t, a once-in-a-generation opportunity could be lost.

 

Andrew Bowie is the Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine.

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