The Labour Party has announced plans to deliver free broadband to every home and business in the UK by 2030 and wants the service to become a “treasured public institution” as it continues to target “real change” in the run-up to December’s pivotal General Election.
On Friday Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor, John McDonnell lifted the lid on the “visionary” £20bn plan which would be funded through taxation on tech giants including Google and Facebook and see BT part nationalised.
Corbyn said he believes broadband is now essentially a basic utility and that extending a high-quality service to everyone in the country will not only encourage social cohesion but help to create a better and more productive workforce.
The radical plans could also give the UK a kickstart in its attempts to deliver faster internet to homes at a time when it lags behind most developed countries.
Just 1.52% of homes in the UK had an ultrafast fibre connection in the second quarter of 2018 compared to 78.46% and 77.31% in South Korea and Japan, respectively. European nations, including Sweden and Spain, are also far ahead.
Internet usage is high in Britain though as 93% of households now have some form of access and nine in ten adults venture online every week.
However, 7.5% of adults have never logged on, and Labour’s McDonnell said the free rollout would target hard-to-reach areas and communities with poor broadband access before moving on to small towns and then well-served cities.
The majority of households in the UK are still connected via BT’s copper and fibre hybrid or Virgin’s cable network while Openreach, BT’s digital network arm, has received criticism for underinvestment and lacklustre service.
Labour’s pledge would see Openreach and parts of the UK infrastructure being nationalised, and a new government-owned network called British Broadband being formed.
Corbyn hailed the central tenet of its Election manifesto as arguably the “most radical and exciting plan for real change the British public has ever seen” as Labour continues efforts to provide much-needed services for the many and not the few.
While there was enthusiasm in the Labour Party about a service, they believe UK people are “going to love”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the free broadband pledge was a “crazed communist scheme” and would require tens of billions of pounds from the taxpayer.
BT boss Philip Jansen also questioned the validity of Labour’s costing evaluation for the plans which it said would need around £15bn for full-fibre broadband in addition to the £5bn already outlined for expansion by the government.
Jansen said it was “very, very ambitious” and will now sit opposite the Conservative Party’s own intentions of delivering full fibre at a cost to everyone by the middle of the next decade.
He concluded: “It needs funding, it is very big numbers, so we are talking 30 to 40 billion pounds… and if you are giving it away over an eight-year time frame it is an another 30 or 40 billion pounds. You are not short of 100 billion pounds.”