The Labour Party has pledged to roll out free full-fibre broadband to every premises in the UK by 2030 as part of a multi-billion-pound plan to renationalise BT Openreach.
The party claims the manifesto pledge would cost £20bn to deliver, but BT’s chief executive has warned it could cost closer to £100bn.
Jeremy Corbyn unveiled the pledge in a speech in Lancaster on Friday morning. “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,” he said.
The party plans to offset the cost of maintaining the network with a new tax on tech companies. Its plans differ from the Conservative’s proposed digital services tax in that the cost would be calculated based not just on UK revenues, but also global profits. Labour has predicted the levy would raise as much as £6bn.
Boris Johnson announced plans in the Queen’s Speech last month to spend £5bn on rolling out gigabit capable broadband to every home by 2025, a time-line which some analysts have described as unrealistic. Although the UK is close to the top of the European leaderboard when it comes to superfast broadband – defined as 30mbps – it is close to the bottom in terms of full-fibre connections. Just 8 per cent of properties currently have full-fibre access, compared to more than 70 per cent in Spain and Portugal.
Corbyn’s plans have attracted criticism from the trade association TechUK, which claimed they would be a “disaster for the telecoms sector”. “Renationalisation would immediately halt the investment being driven not just by BT but the growing number of new and innovative companies that compete with BT,” said chief executive Julian David. Labour is yet to explain in detail how the move would affect other broadband suppliers.
The party also unveiled plans on Friday to create a new digital charter. In an announcement, it said it planned to give individuals and collectives the power to challenge algorithmic injustice, prevent digital infrastructure from being used for surveillance and protect ownership of their data.