Ahead of next month’s General Election in the UK, the Labour Party pledges to connect every home and business with free full-fibre broadband by 2030, if it wins.
Labour, the main opposition party to the Tories, would nationalise part of BT to deliver the policy as well as introducing a tax on tech giants to help pay for it.
This builds on Labour’s existing proposals to nationalise energy utilities, water companies, postal services and railways in a drive to transform the public sector.
Labour said the plan would “bring communities together in an inclusive and connected society” and boost 5G connectivity. The proposed roll-out would 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 finally areas that are currently well-served by high-speed broadband.
The Conservative Party, which is now in government, has called it a “fantasy plan” that would cost taxpayers billions, while the Liberal Democrats dismissed it as “another unaffordable item on the wish list”.
The UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, previously called on the telecom sector to deliver 100% rollout of fibre-optic broadband to properties across the UK “in five years at the outside”.
The National Infrastructure Commission has estimated that building and maintaining a full fibre network across the UK would cost £33.4 billion over 30 years.
Labour proposes to integrate BT’s broadband infrastructure arm, Openreach, into a new public entity, British Broadband. The roll-out would be paid for through Labour’s Green Transformation Fund, with the costs of maintaining the network paid by a tax on multinationals, including tech giants like Google and Facebook.
BT’s CEO, Philip Jansen, told BBC News he was happy to work with whoever wins the election to ensure digital connectivity but said the process for implementing Labour’s plan would not be “straightforward”.
Elsewhere, he said it could cost up to £100 billion, adding that the impact of any changes on BT pensioners, employees and shareholders would need to be carefully considered.
The tech trade association TechUK said nationalisation would be a “disaster” for the telecom sector. Its CEO added, “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 telecoms sector has delivered increased coverage, capacity and quality whilst household spend on telecoms services has remained flat,” he added.
The governments of countries including Australia, Brazil, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa, have created state-owned operators to drive broadband deployment.
Labour says its plan could result in 300 million fewer commuting trips, 3 billion fewer kilometres travelled by car, and 360,000 tonnes fewer carbon dioxide emissions.
Estimates from the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggest a full-fibre network could boost productivity by £59 billion by 2025, bring half a million people back into the workforce and boost rural economies, making it viable for an estimated 270,000 people to move to rural areas.
According of Ofcom, around 8% of premises in the UK are connected to full-fibre broadband, well behind other countries such as Japan and South Korea with 97% and 98% coverage respectively.
Research from the Fibre to the Home Council Europe finds that the UK has a 1.3% fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) penetration rate behind counties such as Latvia (50%), Lithuania (46%), Spain (44%) and Sweden (43%).