Labour dropped one of its biggest policies of the general election campaign last night: free and fast full-fibre broadband for all by 2030. The party plans to bring some of BT into public ownership – namely Openreach and other broadband-relevant parts – and create a new British Broadband public entity. Labour estimates that the initial roll-out of the network will cost over £20bn, in addition to the cost of taking ownership and ongoing maintenance. Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research has found that the policy could boost productivity by £59bn within five years. It is a hugely ambitious move that promises to be hugely rewarding.
Why do it? Only 8-10% of UK premises are currently connected to full-fibre broadband. As Jeremy Corbyn will say in a speech in Lancaster this morning: “What was once a luxury is now an essential utility.” Full-fibre broadband must therefore be treated as a “public service”, the Labour leader is set to argue, and this offer will allow the UK to “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”.
How? The aim to deliver free full-fibre broadband to all individuals and businesses by 2030, including at least 15-18 million premises within five years, will be paid for by Labour’s ‘green transformation fund’. Because this policy, which would ensure rural communities in particular are connected, could result in 300 million fewer commuting trips and 360,000 tonnes fewer carbon emissions. The maintenance costs, which Labour says will be low at £230m a year, will be covered by a tax on tech giants (Google, Facebook, etc) and other UK-based multinationals.
Labour’s latest big announcement is “what real change looks and feels like”, John McDonnell will declare today. It has the potential to rebalance the economy, crucially giving power to held back communities in a way that could have a significant positive impact on the environment. Credit must go to the Communication Workers’ Union, which pushed for this policy as well as the 32-hour working week motion at conference. For our full analysis of the new policy, read James Calmus on why Broadband for the Many is a brilliant idea and how the Tory alternative doesn’t match up.