Following the recent re-shuffle the Government has appointed Margot James MP to be its new Minister of State for Digital Broadband. The previous occupant, Matt Hancock, has replaced Karen Bradley as the Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Opinions will vary but Matt did a fair job in his position as Digital Minister, even if it was only a fleeting appointment (he took up the role on 16th July 2016) and largely continued the direction that had previously been paved by Ed Vaizey MP before him.
However Matt did put a lot of effort towards pushing more focus and investment towards fostering future 5G Mobile services, as well as “full fibre” (FTTP/H) based digital broadband and alternative network providers (here), which should help to boost network level competition vs the established operators of Openreach and Virgin Media etc.
Prior to his departure Matt was also trying to finalise the design for the Government’s 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) for digital broadband, which remains an on-going task following last year’s criticism of BT’s now rejected voluntary proposal and related competition concerns (here).
On the other hand many will rightly feel as if the UK Government could be doing a lot more to further improve national broadband and mobile connectivity. Naturally a change of post is always an opportunity for somebody else to put their own stamp on things by driving more positive change, although views on how that can be achieved will always differ. In that sense we now have a new Digital Minister in the shape of Margot James MP.
We don’t know much about the MP for Stourbridge, except that she’s generally been loyal to the Conservative Party line, was a pro-remain voter in the Brexit referendum and has held a number of Government positions (mostly related to health or business). In terms of education, she has a background in economics and was previously the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business.
Margot doesn’t appear to have much history in the realm of broadband and telecoms connectivity (here), which could make getting up to speed with current developments a little more challenging. At this stage it’s unclear whether the new woman in town will be given much flexibility to do anything significantly different from her predecessor and we suspect that the most likely outcome could be a continuation of the existing approach.
However if Margot feels like a challenge then she could perhaps set a target for delivering 100% coverage of 30Mbps+ superfast broadband, much like most of the EU has had for 7-8 years. On top of that she might try nudging Ofcom to deliver greater flexibility in its regulation, not least so that older copper networks can be retired and replaced with ultrafast FTTP/H. Time will tell.
This article first appeared in ISP Review – January 9th, 2018