UK election: Labour Party pledges free broadband for all

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say in a speech Friday that if his party wins the December 12 general election, the public service will bring “communities together, with equal access, in an inclusive and connected society.”

The plan to nationalize parts of Britain’s largest broadband and mobile provider follows previous Labour pledges to take ownership of other utilities including the railways and postal service.

It would see the a Labour government take control of BT’s telecoms infrastructure arm, Openreach, and form a new public entity known as British Broadband. It is unclear how Labour would pay for the nationalization.

The party said it would cost £15.3 billion ($19.7 billion) to roll out free superfast broadband for up to 18 million premises, by 2030.

The annual maintenance cost will be around £230 million ($296 million), according to Labour, and will be funded by taxing multinationals, like “Amazon, Facebook and Google.”

“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,” the Labour Party said in a statement.

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According to a December 2018 report from UK communications regulator Ofcom, large parts of the country are still poorly served by communications services.

Only 6% of homes and businesses have access to full-fiber connections, according to Ofcom. Full-fiber connections offer lightning quick download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.

Speaking to BBC Radio on Friday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticised Labour’s proposal, warning that Corbyn’s “crackpot scheme” would involve “many many tens of billions of taxpayers money” in order to nationalize the British business.

Shares in BT dropped 2.4% in London after Labour’s announcement was made. The stock is down roughly 20% this year amid fallout from an accounting scandal in the company’s Italian unit.

The sale of TalkTalk’s broadband business, FibreNation, was also put on hold, the telecoms group’s chief executive, Tristia Harrison, told PA News.

Julian David, Chief Executive of trade association techUK said the 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,” he added.

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