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Plan halts TalkTalk deal

Labour’s £20bn broadband plan ‘could cost five times as much’

Jeremy Corbyn in Linlithgow yesterday (pic: Terry Murden)

Labour has promised free full-fibre broadband for every home in Britain by bringing part of BT back into public ownership.

In a speech today Jeremy Corbyn will say that a Labour government would undertake a massive upgrade in the UK’s internet infrastructure, creating a British Broadband public service.

The Labour leader will claim that investing a further £15 billion on top of £5bn committed by the Conservatives would transform the country and economy, saying it would reduce commuting and boost productivity.

But the Tories claimed the plan was a “fantasy”. Boris Johnson called it a “crackpot communist scheme”. BT chief executive Philip Jansen said: “These are very, very ambitious ideas and the Conservative Party have their own ambitious idea for full fibre for everyone by 2025. How we do it is not straight forward.

“It is very big numbers, so we are talking 30 to 40 billion pounds… and if you are giving it away over an eight year time frame it is another 30 or 40 billion pounds. You are not short of £100 billion. There’s also the £60bn pension fund to manage.”

Labour’s announcement has forced TalkTalk to postpone the sale of its full-fibre infrastructure arm until after next month’s general election, according to Sky News.

It says the FTSE-250 company is to delay the signing of a deal to sell FibreNation, which has ambitions of delivering ultrafast broadband to 3m homes, for at least a month.

A deal was on the brink of being signed on Thursday night for FibreNation to be sold to CityFibre Holdings, a venture part-owned by the Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs.

The agreement would have been announced alongside TalkTalk’s half-year results this morning.

Labour’s planned 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 then by areas that are currently well-served by superfast or ultrafast broadband.

The plan to effectively nationalise BT’s Openreach network business would cost £230m a year and would be paid for through Labour’s Green Transformation fund and by taxing multinational corporations such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, and save the average person £30.30 a month.

Labour says only 8-10% of premises in the UK are connected to full-fibre broadband, compared to 97% in Japan and 98% in South Korea. Almost 80% of adults surveyed said that they have experienced internet reliability problems in the last year.

According to research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, a full-fibre broadband network could boost productivity by £59 billion by 2025; bring half a million people back into the workforce; and boost rural economies, with an estimated 270,000 people more able to move to rural areas.

The party’s plans could result in 300 million fewer commuting trips, three billion fewer kilometres travelled by car, and 360,000 tonnes fewer carbon dioxide emissions.

The party will also announce plans for a new Charter of Digital Rights – the strongest protection of data and online rights ever enacted.

Openreach

Openreach would be nationalised under Labour’s plan

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.

“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.”

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Jeremy Corbyn denied he is a Unionist, insisting instead he is a socialist, during his election tour of Scotland.

He announced there would be no Scottish independence vote in the first two years of a Labour Government.

The Labour leader faced hecklers on both sides of the independence divide on the second day of his tour and was tackled by a woman in Linlithgow over his position.

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John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, 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.

“What we are offering in this election is real change. And what we’ve announced today is what real change looks and feels like.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s Shadow BEIS Secretary, will say: “As Shadow Business Secretary, I know all too well the importance of strong digital infrastructure for businesses and industry across the UK.

“Imagine if all those currently shut out of the labour market, such as those with childcare or caring responsibilities, those unfairly disadvantaged due to disability or older people, could participate fully through free, fast internet access from wherever they are.

“If we are to be at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a global economic player, we must speed up the adoption of technologies across our economy.

“But this can only be done if the best possible digital infrastructure is in place.”

Comment: Labour’s plan sounds alarm bells of failed policies of the past



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