Jeremy Corbyn promises free full-fibre broadband in the UK

15 Nov 2019

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Image: PA Media

Jeremy Corbyn has promised free broadband for every home and business in the UK – if Labour wins the upcoming election.

The UK’s Labour Party has promised a British broadband public service that will deliver free full-fibre internet to every home and business by 2030, if it wins the upcoming general election.

The party intends to bring parts of BT into public ownership under plans it said will result in a massive upgrade to the UK’s internet infrastructure. The multibillion-pound plan – one of the major announcements of the election campaign so far – will aim to put an end to patchy and slow coverage, boosting 5G connectivity across the country.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will make the announcement in Lancaster today (15 November) and describe the new free public service as central to Labour’s plans to transform the country and economy, bringing communities together in an “inclusive and connected society”.

How will it be funded?

Labour said the service will be paid for through the party’s Green Transformation fund and by taxing corporations such as Amazon, Facebook and Google – adding it will save the average person £30.30 a month.

The party said there would be a one-off capital cost to roll out the full-fibre network of £15.3bn, in addition to the Government’s existing, and not yet spent, £5bn commitment.

The roll-out would 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, then by areas currently well served by superfast or ultrafast broadband.

‘An inclusive and connected society’

Corbyn said the internet has become such a central part of our lives, adding: “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.”

The party aims to deliver free full-fibre broadband to all individuals and businesses by 2030, with the plan being to integrate the broadband-relevant parts of BT into new public entity, British Broadband. One of the goals is to deliver the service to at least 15m to 18m premises within five years.

UK shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC that the £20bn plan was “visionary”, adding that the party will “issue bonds for shares”. Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told BBC’s Newsnight that the plan would be “transformative” for the country’s economy.

Concerns and opposition

Corbyn’s plan has been met with mixed feelings. Julian David, CEO of tech trade association TechUK, said: “These proposals would be a disaster for the telecoms sector and the customers that it serves.

“Re-nationalisation would immediately halt the investment being driven not just by BT but the growing number of new and innovative companies that compete with BT.”

Nicky Morgan, UK secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said: “Jeremy Corbyn’s fantasy plan to effectively nationalise broadband would cost hardworking taxpayers tens of billions.

“Corbyn is clearly so desperate to distract from his party’s divisions on Brexit and immigration that he will promise anything, regardless of the cost to taxpayers and whether it can actually be delivered. What reckless idea will be next?”

Sam Gyimah, Liberal Democrat shadow secretary for business, energy and industrial strategy, added: “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.”

A BT spokesperson said: “It should be a top political priority to super-charge the roll-out of full fibre broadband and 5G right across the UK so we can build the digital economy of the future.

“Whatever the result of the election, we’d encourage the next government to work with all parts of the industry to achieve that. It’s a national mission that’s bigger than any one company.”

– PA Media