Thursday 14 November 2019 / 10:18 PM Jeremy Corbyn / John McDonnell / Rebecca Long Bailey

British Broadband: Labour sets out mission to connect communities across Britain by delivering free full-fibre broadband for all

In a major announcement tomorrow (Friday 15 November), Labour will set out plans to deliver fast and free full fibre-broadband for all by bringing parts of BT into public ownership and creating a new British Broadband public service.

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will make the announcement in Lancaster, describing the new free public service as central to Labour’s plans to transform our country and economy, “bringing communities together in an inclusive and connected society.”

The next Labour government will undertake a massive upgrade in the UK’s internet infrastructure, delivering fast, secure, reliable internet connections for everyone and putting an end to patchy and slow coverage. This will boost 5G connectivity across the country.

The roll out will begin with communities that have the worst broadband access, including rural and remote communities and some inner city areas, followed by towns and smaller centres, and then by areas that are currently well-served by superfast or ultrafast broadband.

The plan will be paid for through Labour’s Green Transformation fund and taxing multinational corporations such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, and save the average person £30.30 a month.

Only 8-10 per cent of premises in the UK are connected to full-fibre broadband, compared to 97 per cent in Japan and 98 per cent in South Korea. Almost 80% of adults surveyed said that they have experienced internet reliability problems in the last year.

According to research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, a full-fibre broadband network could boost productivity by £59 billion by 2025; bring half a million people back into the workforce; and boost rural economies, with an estimated 270,000 people more able to move to rural areas.

The party’s plans could result in 300 million fewer commuting trips, three billion fewer kilometres travelled by car, and 360,000 tonnes fewer carbon dioxide emissions.

The party will also announce plans for a new Charter of Digital Rights – the strongest protection of data and online rights ever enacted. We will consult on its contents, which could include:

  • Powers for individuals and collectives to challenge algorithmic injustice (where online algorithms cause disproportionate harms to particular groups);
  • Powers for individuals and collectives to prevent the use of digital infrastructure for surveillance;
  • Rights for individuals to protect access to and ownership of their data.

In a speech in Lancaster tomorrow, Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, 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.

“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.”

John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, will say:

 “This is 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.

“Every part of this plan has been legally vetted, checked with experts, and costed.

“What we are offering in this election is real change.

“And what we’ve announced today is what real change looks and feels like.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s Shadow BEIS Secretary, will say:

 “As Shadow Business Secretary, I know all too well the importance of strong digital infrastructure for businesses and industry across the UK.

“Imagine if all those currently shut out of the labour market, such as those with childcare or caring responsibilities, those unfairly disadvantaged due to disability or older people, could participate fully through free, fast internet access from wherever they are.

“If we are to be at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a global economic player, we must speed up the adoption of technologies across our economy.

“But this can only be done if the best possible digital infrastructure is in place.”

 

Notes to editors

  • Labour will deliver free full-fibre broadband to all individuals and businesses by 2030. We will integrate the broadband-relevant parts of BT into a new public entity, British Broadband, with a mission to connect the country. Labour will aim to deliver free full-fibre broadband to at least 15-18 million premises within five years.
  • This will be paid for through Labour’s Green Transformation Fund, with the costs of maintaining the network paid by a tax on multinationals (including tech giants like Google and Facebook).
  • To deliver this we will adopt a public mission to roll-out the remaining 90-92% of full-fibre across the country, as well as acquiring the necessary access rights to the existing 8-10% of full-fibre assets.
  • The government will own the network that is rolled out and will deliver free full-fibre broadband as the network is completed, starting with communities with the worst broadband access (including rural and remote communities and some inner city areas), followed by towns and smaller centres, followed by areas that are currently well-served by superfast or ultrafast broadband.
  • Coordinating this country-wide project will be a new entity, British Broadband, with two arms: British Digital Infrastructure (BDI), which will roll-out the public network, and the British Broadband Service (BBS), which will deliver free broadband.
  • This will be formed by bringing broadband-relevant parts of BT into public ownership: Openreach (which runs much of the existing digital network), parts of BT Technology (which oversees the backhaul network), BT Enterprise (which retails broadband to business) and BT Consumer (which retails broadband to individuals). EE, Plusnet, BT Global Services, BT TV and non-broadband-relevant parts of BT will not be brought into public ownership.
  • All current workers in broadband infrastructure and broadband retail services will be guaranteed jobs in the new public entity and be guaranteed the same or better terms and conditions.
  • Public ownership of the broadband network will help tackle the regional inequality in coverage caused by competition that has led to under-build in rural and remote communities, and over-build in profitable areas.
  • This will provide an extraordinary platform for businesses, who will face lower input costs; in particular, 5G technology (including on mobile phones) will be supported, since full-fibre and 5G are complementary technologies.

Costings

  • There is a one-off capital cost to roll-out the full-fibre network of £15.3 billion (in addition to the Government’s existing and not-yet-spent £5 billion commitment), which will be paid for from our Green Transformation Fund;
  • The cost of bringing parts of BT into public ownership be set by Parliament and paid for by swapping bonds for shares, as occurs with other public ownership processes;
  • Full-fibre has low maintenance costs once rolled out, which can be estimated at around £230 million a year, which will be more than covered by a system unitary taxation of multinationals, which involves treating multinational companies as single entities, and taxing UK-based multinationals on the share of their global profits that reflects their UK share of their global sales, employment and assets.

The Conservatives’ Weak Proposals

Boris Johnson began his leadership campaign with bluster on full-fibre broadband, but the Tories have backtracked on initial promises:

  • The Tories have promised £5 billion investment in ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband, which means broadband of a certain speed, but guarantees no improvement from copper to fibre-optic cables;
  • £5 billion is only one-sixth of what is needed to roll out full-fibre broadband to all;
  • The investment seems to be planned as a payout to existing broadband providers like Virgin, with the government not even owning the infrastructure;
  • The plan appears to be based on procuring services through local authorities, which will involve tens of millions of pounds spent on consulting and legal fees, and will mean building won’t start until November 2021.

Responding to Labour’s proposals, Dave Ward, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, has said:

“After years of neglect the UK lags way behind on full-fibre coverage with just 8% of premises connected, compared to more than 98% in countries like Japan and South Korea.

“While the Tories have failed to invest, Labour would build a network for the future and ensure every part of the country shares in the benefits of the digital revolution.

“The announcement demonstrates the scale of ambition of a Labour government to connect the whole of the UK with full-fibre broadband in just a decade.

“It’s underpinned by a robust plan for investment, good jobs and for rolling out the network to millions of homes across the country at pace.

“It will revolutionise the industry with one of the most significant infrastructure programmes we have ever seen and shows what is possible with a proactive industrial strategy.

“Labour’s plan to build the broadband network for the future will create thousands of good jobs across the UK.

“Rolling out full fibre will require thousands of engineers and will only be delivered with a co-ordinated plan to ensure we have the skills, technology, resources and investment in place.

“Labour is setting this out today and it is good news for the industry, public and workers.”