Channel leaders call on new government to spotlight digital switchover

Last week, the Prime Minister confirmed that a general election will be held on 4 July.

The next government will be elected at a crucial time for the telecoms industry, with the digital switchover scheduled to be completed by January 2027.

Leaders from around the Channel have shared their thoughts with Comms Business on what they would like to see from a new government to ensure the switchover is a smooth process for UK businesses.

For Julien Parven, director, Daisy Partner Business, the most important thing a new government can do is acknowledge the switchover is happening and show greater engagement with the challenges.

He said, “Whichever way the election goes it will be a new government, if it’s the same party it’ll look different to how it does now and if it’s a different party then they’ll have different agenda points. Whoever it is, I think the biggest thing the switchover needs is acknowledgment. Acknowledgment of what it entails and the implications it’ll have across not just UK businesses but across communities.

“Ideally, a new government will put some weight behind the switchover to recognise the implications and bring it to the front of the public agenda in a similar way to how we saw the analogue to digital TV approach. Businesses are going through a cycle with the switch off and there are various stages of this that businesses are going through that a new government needs to recognise and help mediate.

“The switchover has an unavoidable implication for every UK business and when we’re coming out, in part, of the economic uncertainty some businesses will be making some tough decisions. Having less than adequate technology goes against the whole mandate of superfast Britain so the acknowledgement, realisation, and action to bring it to the forefront of people’s minds is essential.”

Jamie Ward, CEO, Gradwell Communications, also emphasised the importance of government engagement. He said, “It is essential for any new government to be more publicly engaged with the switch-off process to drive more accountability for the schedule. We need them to be present at industry events, demonstrating interest via the media and proactively addressing the switch-off when it comes to government policy. Currently, the UK's telecoms infrastructure lags behind other European nations and as a result, the outdated infrastructure is hindering growth and innovation opportunities for UK businesses. The switch-off is an excellent opportunity to address this for future generations and drive economic growth for a new government, but it is being held back by these delays.

“The responsibility for defining the switchover timescales has been left to Openreach, which many in the industry feel operates without any significant government oversight or penalties for delays. The government must exert pressure and provide clear guidance to ensure that the switchover progresses in a reasonable timeframe with no more delays.”

Eli Katz, chair, Comms Council UK, added, “Comms Council UK has been calling on the government for years to be involved in the engagement strategy. Greater support and coordination from government and Ofcom alongside industry is essential to ensure messaging is clear and aligned, and that customers sufficiently understand the necessary changes.”

Industry has been calling out for a national campaign for a number of years, with advertisements around the digital TV switchover in 2012 illustrating what this could look like.

Lee Turner, head of industry engagement and regulatory affairs, Gamma, said, “Gamma has been pushing since the announcement of PSTN closure for a unified communications campaign on the switchover. We have also launched our own campaign with the help of Morph and Aardman animation to raise awareness to business owners. We see this as an opportunity for businesses to really re-imagine the way that they can communicate with their customers. It’s a key reason that we are Fit to Switch champions. However, we would welcome co-operation from government on a national campaign aimed at both consumer and business users, and particularly the latter.

“Businesses are at risk of entering into lease and maintenance agreements for products which might very well be redundant within the contract term and any switch of new technology requires a longer planning period than a simple residential switch.”

Turner also raised the possibility of government grants to support the switchover. He said, “We would also urge government to look at a scheme similar to the BDUK grants, for businesses to switchover to the new technologies. Small businesses can face significant cost in changing their equipment and cabling infrastructure to consume the new fibre products, which is one of the reasons for slow takeup within the business market.”

Given the regional approach taken by Openreach with preparing for the switchover, engaging with local government will also be vital. Dr Lucy Green, founder and managing director, Larato, explained, “Regions like the, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley and the West Midlands are making massive strides in helping the UK to become a phenomenal technological force for good around the world. I would love to see the new government empower these regions to spread the word and support local businesses in achieving the smooth transition they deserve. I am a firm believer that the switchover should be as much of a ‘non-event’ as the Year 2000 turned out to be. I believe that the key to success lies in the regions.”