UK government set to relax Visa rules for broadband engineers to speed up fibre rollout

Optical fiber
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The UK Government could relax visa restrictions for broadband engineers amid concerns a shortage of specialist labour caused by Brexit is slowing down the rollout of fibre in the UK.

Reports suggest new prime minister Liz Truss plans to increase the number of foreign workers allowed to enter the UK, particular in areas where there is a particular need. 

Indeed, the English language requirement could also be waived in order to get more cable in the ground.

Openreach fibre 

The reports will be music to the ears of a telco industry that has said Brexit was making it difficult to hire skilled workers from the EU.

Openreach chief executive Clive Selley has said 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.

Boris Johnson's government had 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’.

The Conservative manifesto ahead of the 2019 General Election promised nationwide fibre to the premise (FTTP) coverage by 2025 but the government has since backtracked. The revised target is 85%, with the government also backing down on its commitment to using full fibre. Meanwhile, just £1.2 billion of £5 billion in promised funding will be delivered during this Parliament.

Nonetheless, private investments mean 1Gbps broadband is available to around 70% of UK premises through a combination of fibre and cable.

Despite the inconsistent approach displayed to implementing her party's  manifesto thus far, Truss does appear keen to maintain her predecessor's watered-down target. Indeed, she mentioned broadband specifically during her first speech as prime minister outside No 10. Downing Street. 

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.

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.

Via The Guardian

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.