General election: Labour promises free superfast broadband for every home

Parts of BT would be brought into public ownership as part of multibillion-pound upgrade to UK’s internet infrastructure

Chris Baynes
Thursday 14 November 2019 23:19
What to watch out for in a pre-Christmas election

Labour will deliver free superfast broadband to every house and business in the country if it is elected, the party has pledged.

Parts of BT would be brought back into public ownership to enable a massive upgrade to the UK’s internet infrastructure, Jeremy Corbyn is to announce on Friday.

A Labour government would establish a British Broadband public service to oversee a multibillion-pound plan to end slow and patchy coverage and boost 5G connectivity across the country, the party’s leader will say.

Speaking in Lancaster, Mr Corbyn is set to say that broadband has gone from being a luxury to an "essential utility" and should be seen as a public service.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell described it as "public ownership for the future - a plan that will challenge rip-off ‘out-of-contract’ pricing and that will literally eliminate bills for millions of people across the UK".

But prime minister Boris Johnson denounced the plan as a "crackpot scheme that would involve many, many tens of billions of taxpayers' money nationalising a British business".

Labour's planned rollout would begin with areas that have the worst broadband access, including rural and remote communities and some inner city areas, followed by towns and smaller cities and then by areas currently well served by superfast or ultrafast broadband. Labour said it would aim to deliver full-fibre broadband to the whole country within a decade.

Free internet access would save the average person £30.30 a month, the party said. It would be funded by new taxes on corporations such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, as well as Labour’s Green Transformation fund.

The rollout of the network would cost a one-off £15.3bn on top of the £5bn already committed by the government to extend full-fibre broadband access across the country.

Labour said it would also announce plans for a new Charter of Digital Rights, which it claimed would be “the strongest protection of data and online rights ever enacted”.

The party said it will launch a consultation on the charter’s contents, which could include powers for people to challenge algorithmic injustice, prevent the use of digital infrastructure for surveillance, and protect access to and ownership of their data.

In a speech on Friday, Mr Corbyn will say: “A new public service delivering the fastest broadband free to everyone is at the heart of Labour’s plans to transform the future of our economy and society.

“The internet has become such a central part of our lives. It opens up opportunities for work, creativity, entertainment and friendship. What was once a luxury is now an essential utility.”

He will add: “That’s why full-fibre broadband must be a public service, bringing communities together, with equal access, in an inclusive and connected society.

“It’s time to make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in every corner of our country.

“Making it free and available to all will open up opportunities for everybody, at the cutting edge of social and economic change.

“By creating British Broadband as a public service, we will lead the world in using public investment to transform our country, reduce people’s monthly bills, boost our economy and improve people’s quality of life.”

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The party aims to deliver free full-fibre broadband to all homes and businesses by 2030, with the plan being to integrate the broadband-relevant parts of BT into a new public entity, British Broadband. Labour said it wanted 15 to 18 million properties to have full-fibre access within five years.​

Boris Johnson has promised to ensure every home in the UK has full-fibre broadband by 2025, bringing forward an existing government target by eight years. But the telecoms industry has voiced concern about ministers’ commitment to the “considerable task”, urging that “work needs to start now”.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell claimed the Conservatives’ funding plan was “nowhere near enough” and would leave the UK falling behind other countries.

He said “every part” of Labour’s plan had been “legally vetted, checked with experts and costed”.

But Liberal Democrat business spokesman Sam Gyimah said: "It might be a Christmas election, but this is getting silly. Another day, another unaffordable item on the wish list.

"Wasting billions of taxpayer funds to nationalise BT won’t solve the connectivity issues faced by so many of our rural communities. The Labour plan is less open-reach, more overreach."

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