Openreach: Brexit labour shortages are slowing down UK full fibre rollout

Optical fiber
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Openreach chief executive Clive Selley claims Brexit is making it difficult to hire skilled workers from the European Union (EU) and is slowing down the UK’s rollout of fibre to the premise (FTTP) technology.

Selly told the Financial Times that countries like Portugal and Spain, which are nearing the end of their own full fibre rollouts, have plenty of people able and willing to assist with the Openreach’s multi-billion-pound programme, but are being thwarted by the Home Office’s “tortuous” immigration process.

“We are constraining the rate of fibre build in the UK through the process,” he is quoted as saying.

Openreach fibre 

Openreach is more than a quarter of a quarter of the way to achieving its target of covering 25 million homes and businesses to full fibre infrastructure by 2026 and is passing 50,000 premises a week, laying an estimated 800 metres worth of cable every minute.

The government has made the rollout of full fibre broadband one of its key policies, believing better connectivity can deliver a range of societal and economic benefits and its much touted ‘levelling-up agenda’.

However, Openreach’s intimation that the rollout could be even more rapid if it had easier access to a skilled, readily available labour force in the EU is another sign of dissatisfaction among British businesses regarding the UK’s post-Brexit strategy.

“We have a points-based immigration system and people are eligible to come if they meet the requirements,” the Home Office told the newspaper.

The Openreach network is the largest in the UK and is used not just by parent company BT to deliver its services, but also by other broadband providers including Sky, TalkTalk, and Vodafone, and by mobile operators who require backhaul for their masts.

Virgin Media has made 1Gbps broadband available across its entire infrastructure and plans to upgrade to FTTP by 2028, while ‘altnets’ such as CityFibre are also building next generation networks.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.