Will the UK Government Ignore Business Lobbying for More 5G Spending?

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) issued three recommendations last week to the UK Government over broadband and 5G.

In a short press release entitled “Supercharge broadband and 5G to stop UK economy from buffering”, sent out on Thursday 7 February, the CBI called on government to alter laws and invest more public money concerning broadband and 5G infrastructure.

The CBI’s three recommendations were:

  • Fast-track laws for firms to install internet connections in existing homes for private tenants and ensuring all new properties have full fibre or other gigabit cables installed when they’re built

  • Equip all new train lines and other transport projects with full fibre cables

  • Get businesses ready for 5G adoption by raising awareness of its uses and how firms can use it – through government trials.

CBI Chief UK Policy Director Matthew Fell said:

“There’s already a digital divide in rural areas across the UK.  Our ability to enjoy world-class digital connectivity shouldn’t be determined by where we live or work. It’s not just a social case for national coverage, but a clear economic one.

“Businesses have already invested heavily in digital infrastructure. In fact, the private sector will provide most of the £33 billion total investment needed to deliver full fibre networks across the UK. But Government must help firms access those hard to reach areas.”

On company access to private rentals, new build homes & regulation, Matthew said:

“Why aren’t we equipping every new build in the UK with full fibre technology to enable more flexible working? In this case, it’s not just investing that matters. It’s also about the challenges companies face getting access to properties when looking to install digital connections in private rentals.

“Businesses want to see fast-tracked planning legislation going through parliament this year if we are to give constituents, consumers, and commuters the world-class connectivity they need.”

On increasing business adoption of new technologies, Matthew said:

“There’s no doubt that the UK is developing fantastic technology. But right now, on the global stage, the race is on to ensure firms adopt it.

“2019 must be a year of rapid uptake. First by extending support for businesses to help small firms adopt existing technologies like 4G and full fibre.

“And second, by expanding trials in new technology like 5G so businesses can explore the art of the possible with seamless connectivity. Because in today’s world, digital connectivity is not just a nice to have, it’s a business basic.”

(Lifted from CBI news release with Digital Survivor emphases in red type)

About the Confederation of British Industry

The CBI, despite regularly enjoying a high profile in established media, is far from “the voice of business’ it claims to be and is renowned for keeping its membership figures secret.

However, when campaigning for Britain to join the euro in 1999, the organisation was forced to admit a direct membership total of 2,037 – which worked out to be around 0.06% of businesses trading in Britain at that time.

Federation of Small Businesses

Another lobbying organisation, the Federation of Small Businesses, today boasts around 200,000 members, ranging from SME’s and small firms down to freelancers and the self-employed.

This organisation has no known ties to the CBI but is equally enthusiastic about the development and rollout of 5G and wireless technologies potentially beneficial to commerce – especially if it senses public money may be available.

That 200,000 membership equals less than 3.6% of Britain’s currently estimated total of 5.6 million businesses.

Bigger picture

In response to a Digital Survivor information request about 5G, the UK Government said last week:

The government has, so far, allocated £200 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) to the 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme. While the government is supporting the development of 5G through the 5G Testbeds & Trials Programme, the vast majority of the capital investment required for both full-fibre and 5G rollout will need to come from the private sector.

(Read the full article State of 5G in the UK Right Now for a fuller picture.)

Note that last line “the vast majority of the capital investment required for both full-fibre and 5G rollout will need to come from the private sector”. This is currently at odds with the CBI and FSB’s desires for public subsidies outlined above.

Will the UK Government stick to its guns on spending? Or will it cave in as the cost of rolling out 5G inevitably spirals out of control, threatening the alleged desire (one promoted worldwide) for a wireless-powered Internet of Things?

I think most of us know the answer already.