All British households and businesses could receive free, full-fibre broadband services by 2030 under an ambitious plan floated by the opposition Labour party.
With the United Kingdom heading to the polls on December 12, broadband access is being made an election issue with both major parties putting forward proposals.
The government is proposing to spend £5 billion (A$9.5 billion) on ‘gigabit-capable’ connections for underserved regional and remote parts of the country.
By contrast, the opposition Labour party has pledged to spend up to £20.3 billion (A$38.4 billion) deploying fibre to every home and business, and renationalising parts of BT to run the network.
It estimates ongoing costs of around £230 million (A$435 million) a year, which would come from a multinationals tax, including on big technology companies.
UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the plan would “put an end to patchy and slow coverage”, and expand the availability of full-fibre broadband to more than just 8-10 percent of premises.
“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 party said.
“It’s time to make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in every corner of our country,” Corbyn said in a statement.
“Making it free and available to all will open up opportunities for everybody, at the cutting edge of social and economic change.
John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, said that “every part of this plan has been legally vetted, checked with experts, and costed.”
The full proposal is to 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 said.
“Labour will aim to deliver free full-fibre broadband to at least 15-18 million premises within five years.”
The project will involve deploying fibre to up to 92 percent of UK premises, and “acquiring the necessary access rights to the existing 8-10 percent of full-fibre assets.”
“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,” it said.
“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).
Labour argued that public ownership of the UK’s broadband network would “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.”