The UK telecoms sector post Brexit

The UK telecoms sector post Brexit

The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) hosted its Annual Conference on Monday 31 October 2016 with a focus on what Brexit means for the UK telecoms sector. Our speakers gave their views on where the opportunities and risks could be for the sector pre and post Brexit. We heard from a range of experts about the key role of European national regulatory authorities in shaping EU policies and regulations and how the UK telecoms regulatory system might evolve, in particular in the context of the review of the EU framework for communications.

Moving from a regulatory system designed by the EU to one designed by the UK carries opportunities and risks; rules could be tailored to the UK market and better coordinated across various regulated sectors, but the EU is in a better position than the UK alone to influence international standards (e.g spectrum, telecoms equipment manufacturing) and to design regulations consistent across countries in Europe where industry operate. The accountability and peer review mechanism through the European Commission and BEREC (the body of European Regulators) were noted as key elements of the UK/EU relationship in the telecoms regulatory sector, at risk of being lost post-Brexit.

As we uncover the complexity of the ramifications of the EU framework and UK/EU relationship, it is clear that the uncertainty linked to upcoming changes to the regulatory system may impede on long-term investments decisions.

Our international speakers, Irene Aaamot, Director of NKOM (Norwegian Communications Authority) and Marc Furrer, President of ComCom (Swiss National Regulator), presented their experience of operating outside the EU. The Swiss telecoms regulatory model was developed independently from that of the EU, and diverges from it in some aspects (e.g access regulation). On the other hand, the EU Framework was implemented by Norway. The EEA (European Economic Area of which Norway is part of) and EFTA models (European Free Trade Area of which both Norway and Switzerland are part of) have allowed both countries to establish long-standing relationships with the EU, shaping to some extent rules through their engagement with BEREC, without however participating in formal decision making processes.

Other models of relationships between the UK and the EU/rest of the world were explored (EEA, EFTA, Word Trade Organisation membership, the EU Customs Union and conclusions of general Free Trade Agreements, including a bespoke UK/EU agreement). Gordon Moir, from law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn, presented implications for the telecoms sector of adopting (reverting) to other off-the-shelf models after Brexit.

The decision of whether the UK exit of the EU will be a hard of soft one will have implications on the level of harmonisation and divergence possible for the UK regulatory framework. Implications might be felt with regards to key aspects of the regulatory framework such competition and merger rules, state aid regime, universal broadband, regulation of cross-border services (e.g audio-visual and media services, content portability) or roaming but also in the trade of telecoms services.

The BSG will continue to explore with industry and wider stakeholders possible risks and opportunities for the sector during the process of the UK exiting the EU.

The event was web-stream – please follow this link to access the recording:

Below are the slides presented by speakers:

Camilla Bustani-Ofcom-EU policy making Role of NRAs

David Stewart-Towerhouse-Impact of EU telecoms framework on UK sector

Gordon Moir-Shepherd Wedderburn-Models of relationships with the EU

Irene Aamot-NKOM-The Norwegian Experience

Marc Furrer-ComCom-The Swiss experience

Simon Pike – Spectrum and telecoms equipment