The business-to-business communications market needs a strong and focused voice to make its case to policy-makers, regulators and the media, says FCS, the all-industry trade association.
Until today, though, FCS – like most of the industry it serves – has concentrated on members’ vital day-to-day concerns like ensuring equivalence of access to the copper network, developing best practice to prevent radio interference, and building partnerships to get business-grade broadband on to industrial estates.
FCS Chief Executive Chris Pateman says “Yes, this has delivered real policy results. And yes, it’s delivered real commercial benefits for FCS member companies. But meanwhile, the voice of business-to-business comms has not really been heard or understood by policy-makers. Which means when it comes to the really big strategic issues our industry faces – fighting for radio spectrum for docks and utilities, or securing business-grade alternatives to the Openreach fibre roll-out — business is always on the back foot with the policy-makers.”
“Policy-makers and regulators need to understand how important communications is to Britain’s businesses. At the moment, they think ‘comms’ just means voters getting e-mail on their mobiles, streaming video on to their TVs or writing them letters about on-line child pornography. This blindness extends even to Ofcom, whose terms of reference are dictated by EU-wide policies to protect ‘citizens and consumers’.
“Politicians all say how they want growth in the UK economy, and how committed they are to the technology-driven service-led economy of the future. But they fail to grasp the vital link between world-class UK businesses and the world markets in which they are to trade. That link is communications. No comms, no growth. We are not just one industry among many, clamouring for policy-makers’ attention. We are the one vital enabling industry without which nothing else happens.
“FCS members are already very well aware of what this means in practice. We have to live every day with the results of well-intentioned consumer legislation being applied to commercial relationships and business lines. Or spectrum allocations which take no account of the crucial enabling role portable radios play in enabling ports, sports events, energy companies and building sites to function.
“The FCS Board don’t think there’s any point moaning about how unfair all this is. If politicians only hear one side of the story, you can’t blame them for getting a distorted picture. It’s up to the industry to redress the balance.”
That’s easy to say, of course. But costly and risky for any individual company to do: politicians are always suspicious of ‘special pleading’, and it’s difficult for any business which isn’t the size of BT, Sky or Everything Everywhere to get much traction outside its home constituency. On the other hand, trade associations represent multiple stakeholders, are politically neutral, and can often say the unwelcome truths or tackle the monopoly interests in a way that individual companies might feel it commercially unwise to attempt.
“This is not a change of focus for FCS,” says Chris Pateman. “We are and always will be committed to representing our members at the practical, technical, engineering level. That vital, detailed work will continue. This re-launch is about taking all that detailed experience and using it to inform bigger-picture positions about free markets, competition and societal value that policy-makers will recognise. This is about giving the business to business communications sector the voice it needs.”