Free Broadband For All, As Labour Pledges BT Nationalisation

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Labour says it will nationalise BT’s fixed-line network, but PM says the it is a ‘crackpot’ idea, and TechUK says Labour’s plans would be a ‘disaster’

The Labour Party has pledged to provide every home and business in the UK with free full fibre broadband, if it wins the general election next month.

On Friday morning Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC that Labour achieve this by nationalising part of BT and introducing a tax on tech giants to help pay for it.

But the pledge has been immediately dismissed by political opponents. The Lib Dems called it “another unaffordable item on the wish list”, whilst Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “a crackpot scheme.”

BT nationalisation

The PM also added that Labour’s pledge would cost the taxpayer “many tens of billions” and that the Conservatives would deliver “gigabit broadband for all”.

Boris Johnson has already promised £5bn to bring full-fibre to every home by 2025.

Labour meanwhile is pledging to nationalize Openreach – the network division of BT – as well as parts of BT Technology, BT Enterprise and BT Consumer.

“It’s time to make the very fastest full-fiber broadband free to everybody, in every home in every corner of the country,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say in a speech, according to an extract released by the party and quoted by Reuters.

“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.”

Labour said the cost of nationalizing parts of BT would be set by parliament and paid for by swapping bonds for shares.

BT response

But Labour’s proposals have drawn a damning response from the tech community.

BT chief executive Philip Jansen told Radio 4’s Today programme that Labour had under-estimated the price of its pledge.

But he is quoted as saying by the BBC that he was happy to work with whoever wins the election to help build a digital Britain, although the process for implementing Labour’s plan would not be “straightforward”.

He added that the impact of any changes on BT pensioners, employees, shareholders – and the millions of investors via pension schemes – needed to be carefully thought through.

Labour disaster

However, TechUK, which represents many UK tech firms, went much further than that, and warned that Labour’s proposals would be a “disaster” for the telecoms sector and customers.

“These proposals would be a disaster for the telecoms sector and the customers that it serves,” explained techUK’s CEO, Julian David. “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,” said David. “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.”

And he concluded that Labour’s plan would be big step backwards for the UK.

“These proposals would be a huge set back for the UK’s digital economy which is a huge driver for growth,” said David.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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