Labour unveil plans for publically owned 'British Broadband'

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has today announced plans to deliver free full-fibre broadband to all individuals and businesses by 2030, if Labour wins the upcoming general election.

Under the election pledge, it has said it will create a new public entity – British Broadband – through bringing the ‘broadband-relevant parts of BT’ into public ownership.

That would include Openreach, parts of BT Technology, BT Enterprise and BT Consumer. It has said that EE, Plusnet, BT Global Services, BT TV and non-broadband-relevant parts of BT would not be included in these plans.

Labour has said this will provide an ‘extraordinary platform’ for businesses, who will face lower input costs.

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

Labour has said almost 80 per cent of adults surveyed said that they have experienced internet reliability problems in the last year. It relates this finding to only 8-10 per cent of premises in the UK being connected to full-fibre broadband, compared to 97 per cent in Japan and 98 per cent in South Korea.

The announcement has clearly generated no small amount of ire in some quarters. techUK's CEO, Julian David, said: "These proposals would be a disaster for the telecoms sector and the customers that it serves. 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. Full Fibre and 5G are the underpinning technologies of our future digital economy and society. The majority of the estimated £30bn cost for Full Fibre is being borne by the private sector. Renationalisation would put this cost back onto the taxpayer, no doubt after years of legal wrangling, wasting precious time when we can least afford it. These proposals would be a huge set back for the UK's digital economy which is a huge driver for growth.

“The telecoms sector has delivered increased coverage, capacity and quality whilst household spend on telecoms services has remained flat. Put simply, it is delivering for consumers and UK PLC. Labour’s plans are fundamentally misguided and need to be dramatically altered if they are to deliver the infrastructure we all need.”

The Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) has been somewhat more measured in its reaction. Its CEO, Malcolm Corbett, said: “For the UK to become a world leader in full fibre and 5G, it needs to provide access for all, wherever people live or work and we are pleased to see the commitment Labour has shown to this through its latest pledge.

“It is crucial, however, that how broadband is funded, rolled-out and provided is considered, along with the wider impact the plan could have. The UK’s broadband market is currently thriving as a result of infrastructure investors and local communities, alongside the public sector. £3.3bn was committed by investors in alternative network providers (altnets) last year alone, in addition to investments by BT and Virgin Media. This has led to the deployment of Gold Standard world-class networks in cities and towns across the country, including in previously underserved rural areas, growing from a very low base of about 1 per cent of premises to around 10 per cent today. Accelerating the pace is important and all parts of the industry are working to do that.

“While we welcome Labour’s focus, we are concerned that some parts of the policy, for example, nationalisation, will dampen the vibrant market for investment in new fibre networks in the short term, thus delaying fibre roll-out. Free broadband is an attractive consumer proposition but will be costly, could undermine innovation and consumer choice, as well as having a detrimental effect on the service provider sector.”