Labour's free broadband election pledge branded an 'unaffordable wish'

14 November 2019, 22:36

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell will announce the scheme tomorrow
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell will announce the scheme tomorrow. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Labour Party has pledged that every UK house will be offered free wifi if they win the general election.

Labour has promised to give homes and businesses in the UK free full-fibre broadband by 2030.

The party said it would pay for this by nationalising part of BT and introducing a tax on tech companies.

The rollout would begin with communities that have the worst broadband access, including rural and remote communities, followed by towns, then by areas currently well served by superfast or ultrafast broadband.

Steve Barclay, Brexit Secretary said: "Jeremy Corbyn is not being straight with the British public - he knows perfectly well that his scheme to keep Britain in the EU means he will be unable to deliver on these grand promises. If he is elected his whole Government will be dominated by the chaos of forcing another two referendums on the country. 

"The best way to get brilliant broadband is to get Brexit done, stop sending billions to the EU and instead spend it on our priorities. That’s what Boris Johnson and the Conservatives offer and I hope people will vote for that next month.’"

The plans were was blasted as "another unaffordable item on Labour's Christmas gift list" by the Liberal Democrats today.

Sam Gyimah, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: "It might be a Christmas election, but this is getting silly. Another day, another unaffordable item on the wish list. 

"Wasting billions of taxpayer funds to nationalise BT, won’t solve the connectivity issues faced by so many of our rural communities. The Labour plan is less open-reach, more overreach. 

"Liberal Democrat’s recognise the need for every community to have high quality internet access. We will take bold steps to ensure local communities can channel investment into priority digital infrastructure projects. We will ensure companies are held to account in delivering on universal service obligations, and that regulation is fit for purpose as technology evolves.  

"This is part of the Liberal Democrats bold plan for a brighter, better-connected future."

A spokesman for Virgin Media said: "Virgin Media has the fastest scaled network in the UK and has pledged to bring next-generation gigabit broadband to half of the UK, by the end of 2021.

"As this commitment shows, private investment is essential to delivering improved broadband infrastructure.

"With billions of pounds worth of private money invested in the UK, Virgin Media continues to expand its network, providing competition and choice to consumers.

"Government policy has a role to play and can help to accelerate broadband deployment in a way that minimises the level of public subsidy needed and provides the UK and consumers with incredible connectivity within a competitive market."

It is estimated that it would cost £20 billion to supply the 27 million homes in the UK.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously pledged £5 billion to bring full-fibre broadband to every home by 2025.

The government did hit its target to bring superfast broadband to 95% of homes by December 2017, at a cost of £1.7bn, but the internet speeds are significantly lower than those of full-fibre.

Jeremy Corbyn will make the announcement in a speech in Lancaster tomorrow, where he will describe the new free public service as "central to Labour's plans to transform our country and economy".

However, Conservative Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nicky Morgan has called the announcement a "fantasy plan".

She said: "Jeremy Corbyn's fantasy plan to effectively nationalise broadband would cost hardworking taxpayers tens of billions.

"Corbyn is clearly so desperate to distract from his party's divisions on Brexit and immigration that he will promise anything, regardless of the cost to taxpayers and whether it can actually be delivered.

"What reckless idea will be next?"

The Labour party plans to renationalise part of BT
The Labour party plans to renationalise part of BT. Picture: PA

The Labour party say the plan will put an end to patchy and slow coverage, and will boost 5G connectivity across the country.

In a speech on Friday, Mr Corbyn will say: "A new public service delivering the fastest broadband free to everyone is at the heart of Labour's plans to transform the future of our economy and society.

"The internet has become such a central part of our lives. It opens up opportunities for work, creativity, entertainment and friendship.

"What was once a luxury is now an essential utility."

He will add: "That's why full-fibre broadband must be a public service, bringing communities together, with equal access, in an inclusive and connected society.

"It's time to make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in every corner of our country.

"Making it free and available to all will open up opportunities for everybody, at the cutting edge of social and economic change.

"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 shadow chancellor John McDonnell will say: "This is public ownership for the future.

"A plan that will challenge rip-off 'out-of-contract' pricing, and that will literally eliminate bills for millions of people across the UK.

"Every part of this plan has been legally vetted, checked with experts and costed."