Labour promises free broadband for all if it wins general election 2019

  • The Labour party has pledged free “full-fibre” broadband for every citizen and organization in the UK by 2030, if it wins the upcoming general election.

    The party has said it would partially nationalize BT to deliver the policy and introduce a tax on the biggest tech firms such as Google and Apple to help pay for it.

    Broadband services are currently provided by companies at an average cost of approximately £30 per month, according to comparison website Cable.  Labour claims its plans will "literally eliminate [these] bills for millions of people across the UK".

    Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC that the party’s “visionary” £20bn plan would “ensure that broadband reaches the whole of the country”.

    RELATED: Openreach reveals 3 new NI locations set to have faster broadband

    It is an addition to the party’s existing plans to nationalise water companies, energy utilities, Royal Mail postal services and railways, which research has found will save UK households around £7.8bn a year, as reported by The Independent.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised £5bn to bring full-fibre to every home by 2025, but Mr McDonnell said this was “nowhere near enough” and would leave the UK falling further behind other countries with more widely available broadband.

    Only 7% of the UK has access to full-fibre broadband, according to a report from regulator Ofcom earlier this year.

    At a cost of £1.7bn the government reached its target to provide superfast broadband to 95% of UK homes by 2017. However the internet speeds are significantly lower than those of full-fibre.

    RELATED: Virgin Media to offer Gigabit broadband to millions of homes across the UK

    Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has named Labour’s plan “a crackpot scheme” and the Lib Dems have called it "another unaffordable item on the wish list". The Tories have also claimed Labour have significantly underestimated the costs, saying BT estimates the cost of full-fibre rollout at £40bn. They added there would be much higher costs for running the network and highlighted the wages of Openreach staff amounting to about £800m a year.

    BT’s chief executive Philip Jansen told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he would be happy to work with any winner of the general election. Although like the Tories, he too believed Labour had “underestimated” the price of its promise and the process for implementing such a scheme would not be “straightforward”.

    TechUK, the representative of multiple UK tech firms, said the proposals would be a "disaster" for the telecoms sector and its customers.

    The shadow chancellor continued that the full-fibre roll-out would be initiated within areas that have the worst broadband access, followed by smaller towns and villages, leading up to the areas that are already well served.

    Mr McDonnell said that a Labour government would compensate shareholders by issuing government bonds, adding that Labour had sought legal advice to include ensuring pension funds with investments in BT are not left out of pocket.

    RELATED: BT Group reports £592m contribution to NI economy annually

    In Labour’s plans, a new entity called British Broadband would run the network. The maintenance which is estimated to cost £230m a year would be covered by the new tax on large tech firms.

    "We think they should pay their way and other countries are following suit," said Mr McDonnell.

    In 2010, Finland became the first country worldwide to make broadband a legal right for every citizen. Other countries have followed suit with similar actions, such as in Costa Rica, Estonia, France, Greece and Spain.

    In 2016 the United Nations Human Right Council condemned any country that intentionally disrupts its citizens’ internet access, declaring that it is a basic human right which enables individuals to "exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression."

    Sources: BBC News, The Guardian, The Independent 

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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