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Virgin Media boss warns Brexit could hamstring broadband investment

Praises May for indicating date on Article 50 trigger

Further uncertainty over Brexit could hamper Virgin Media's ability to get more broadband investment for the UK from its parent company Liberty Global, chief exec Tom Mockridge has warned.

Speaking at the Broadband World Forum event, he said: "We need certainty over the outcome of Brexit," adding that when the business makes its next submission to Liberty Global for investment in the UK and Ireland "we are competing against colleagues from Romania to South America".

Mockridge said it was incumbent on the government to resolve the issue of economic doubt.

"[The government] needs to be clear and forthright about how Brexit should occur. I think Theresa May has recently been more clear about when the government might exercise Article 50, which was helpful... but there is still a high degree of uncertainly."

Virgin Media made no secret of its desire to stay in the EU, having donated £500,000 to the remain campaign in the run-up to the referendum.

The Register revealed that costs at Virgin have so far risen by £7m this year following Brexit, due to increased import costs.

He said following the referendum result the company was quick to reaffirm its commitment to its £3bn Project Lightning programme, which intends to connect 4 million premises to broadband speeds of 152Mbps over the next five years.

Unlike many of BT's rivals, Virgin Media has been vocal in its opposition to an Openreach split, having even launched a joint advertising campaign with the former state monopoly urging the regulator to avoid a structural separation.

Mockridge said: "We don’t agree with concept of stripping BT of its network, for investors and the public sector to take away a big piece of the company and put it somewhere else is a bad message. We don’t need the government knocking BT around."

In order for the UK to achieve a faster, more reliable digital infrastructure, he urged the government to better align policy. "Frankly it's a bit of a muddle," he said.

He called for a halt to plans to hike business rates resulting in steep cost increases for broadband providers; reform of wayleaves that mean providers have to approach landowners individually before building networks; and more joined-up policy for Wi-Fi on trains.

On this latter point he used the example of Crossrail. "That is a fantastic transport investment and is being built without any provision for Wi-Fi. That is the sort of unstitched-up thinking [I mean]. The UK government is not in a position to fund investment itself, and that is something the private sector can do."

Virgin Media was taken over by Liberty Global in 2013 for $23.3bn (£15bn). The parent company's footprint is primarily in Europe.

However, staff at the biz have been less keen on the takeover, with one recently describing Liberty as "faceless change drivers with no concern for the Virgin values," according to a Q&A with senior management seen by The Register. ®

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