The UK shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has announced in an interview with the BBC that if the Labour Party win the general election on December 12th then they’ll deliver free full-fibre broadband to all homes and businesses by 2030. The move would be made possible by a tax on big tech firms such as Google and Amazon, and by nationalising BT’s OpenReach section.
Under the plans, connections would first be established in communities where broadband coverage is very poor, from there it would expand to towns and villages before finally arriving in areas that already have good connectivity. In order to placate shareholders, McDonnell said that a Labour government would issue government bonds to shareholders and said that the party had taken legal advice to ensure pension funds and investments with BT are not left out of pocket.
Labour’s British Broadband, as it has been dubbed, has been costed based on a report by Frontier Economics published in 2018 for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It pointed out a similar scheme in Australia which suffered from delays but noted that once rollout starts, programmes like these can deliver quickly.
Labour’s policy is in opposition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party plan which will spend £5 billion to bring full-fibre to every home by 2025. During the Conservative leadership campaign in the summer, Johnson said that his predecessor’s plan to spend £5 billion on rolling out full-fibre was “laughably unambitious”.
Labour has said that the plethora of broadband companies could come on board with its scheme if it ever sees the light of day. With Labour offering up free broadband, it’s unlikely that the competition would be able to survive unless it could offer faster speeds or some unique perks.
Over the last decade, having an internet connection has increasingly become a necessity for many people. More banks are closing down their branches in favour of online banking, the public broadcaster, BBC, is shifting more of its services online despite being relied upon by the unconnected elderly, people are encouraged to use online services to register to vote, pay taxes, and claim benefits, and more energy companies are offering cheaper bills for those who go paperless and access bills online.
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