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ShareBrexit: what needs to happen now that our government’s gone AWOL?

Shock, awe, disgust, celebration. Whatever your reaction, nobody ever expected that we’d be left with no leadership and no plan of action. With David Cameron’s resignation, George Osborne and Theresa May keeping a very low profile and Boris Johnson off playing cricket, one may be forgiven for thinking our government has gone AWOL in the wake of last week’s Referendum vote. In any case, there is no firm plan and we’re all left scratching our heads as to what Brexit actually means for our country, our personal lives and the industry that we represent.

Since businesses are keeping the country ticking over while the politicians scrabble around to decide who’s in charge and what needs to be done, we thought we’d seize the opportunity to remind Whitehall what needs to be considered so that the connectivity industry can depart from the EU as painlessly as possible.

It’s all in the data…

Arguably the biggest issue for us is that of data and privacy. Will Britain be considered a safe place for European data to be transferred and processed once our very public divorce has been finalised?

The Information Commissioner’s Office issued a statement on Friday suggesting that all was in hand. “If the UK is not part of the EU, then upcoming EU reforms to data protection law [the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR] would not directly apply to the UK. But if the UK wants to trade with the Single Market on equal terms we would have to prove ‘adequacy’ – in other words UK data protection standards would have to be equivalent to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation framework starting in 2018… Having clear laws with safeguards in place is more important than ever given the growing digital economy, and we will be speaking to government to present our view that reform of the UK law remains necessary.”

But those paying attention know that the EU-US Privacy Shield – the successor to the Safe Harbor Privacy Principles – has not yet been agreed, eight months on from the legal battle that overturned the original agreement. The stumbling block? The USA’s penchant for mass surveillance. The EU is increasingly protective of its citizens’ personal data so while we have the luxury of witnessing the difficult passage of the Privacy Shield, and arguably can learn from it, we’ll still need to overcome our own mass surveillance plans (both pre-existing and those integral to the Investigatory Powers Bill that’s currently making its way through the House of Lords) in order to be granted the necessary adequacy status.

This begs the question: if the IPB hasn’t been deterred by the threat of European intervention up to now (many had highlighted that the Bill was at odds with Human Rights and likely to be overturned by the European Court), will the threat of the economic turmoil that would certainly result if Britain was not declared a safe place for European data be enough to stall it in its tracks? As we’re finding with many things in our post-Referendum world, the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty itself.

Net neutrality neutralised?

Aside from data transfer and data protection, we’re also keen to understand whether we Brits will overturn the net neutrality rules that the EU passed last autumn. Many, us included, were disappointed that MEPs didn’t do more to strengthen net neutrality and accused the policy of being deliberately vague and allowing ISPs to create a two-tiered approach that favours bandwidth hogging services such as IPTV. This notion has crept back into the public domain this week as not-for-profit organisation The Fight for the Future has publically requested loopholes are closed. Their spokesperson said “If European regulators don’t close these loopholes, telecom giants will be able to roll out paid fast lanes across Europe. European users will suffer the most—as sites they love are forced to pay for special treatment—but the impact on the open Internet will be felt globally, as telecom giants conspire with tech giants to silence competing voices.”

Naturally we wouldn’t want the concept of net neutrality to disappear once we leave the EU. Not only is it crucial in the fight against corporate censorship, it provides us the freedom of information to make choices, both good and bad. With this in mind, we think that any replacement of the EU policy should further ensure the development of the open Internet as an engine of “innovation without permission”, whereby anyone can use the internet to test an idea without needing to pay for equal consideration against market leaders.

We’re hopeful that this is achievable given that Ofcom (admittedly back in November 2011) declared net neutrality as beneficial to our industry, saying that any blocking of alternative services by providers of Internet access is highly undesirable. They said “We would be concerned if network operators were to prioritise managed services in a manner that leaves insufficient network capacity for ‘best-efforts’ access to the open Internet. In such circumstances we would consider using the powers which allow us to safeguard ‘best-efforts’ access to the open Internet by imposing a minimum quality of service on all communications providers”. Fingers crossed then that this level of sense and reason prevails.

Ofcom: free to actually regulate?

While we’re talking about Ofcom, our final thought for this post is whether they’ll actually begin to regulate the comms industry effectively post-Brexit. Although we believe that it’s entirely possible – Ofcom won’t have to answer to higher powers in the EU after all – we predict it’s unlikely given that the regulator will continue to feel the sway of the former national monopoly carrier.

Have your say!

Everyone has an opinion on the outcome of the Referendum and we want to hear yours. Are you concerned about how Brexit will impact your business or are you looking forward to the new age of independence? Do you think there are other issues the connectivity industry should be focusing on to ensure continued growth in a potentially recessionary environment? Leave your views in the comment box below.

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