Britain’s main opposition Labour party yesterday promised free, fast broadband internet for everyone, in the most eye-catching of a series of big spending pledges ahead of next month’s election.
The pledge comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party extended its lead over the Labour Party to 13 points this week, according to a Panelbase poll.
The poll, conducted after the Brexit Party said it would not stand in Conservative-held seats at the December 12 election, put the Conservatives on 43%, up 3 points from a poll last week, ahead of Labour who were unchanged at 30%.
Labour said it would bring the parts of telecoms giant BT that deal with broadband into public ownership, as part of a sweeping programme of nationalisations.
“The internet has become such a central part of our lives. It opens up opportunities for work, creativity, entertainment and friendship,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“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.”
Johnson has previously promised to deliver high-speed broadband to all households by 2025 via the private sector. He condemned Labour’s plan as “slightly fantastical” saying it would cost “many tens of billions” of taxpayers’ money.
Lobby group TechUK said the move was “fundamentally misguided” and would spell “disaster” for the telecoms industry and the fast-growing digital sector.
The pledge is the most radical so far in the campaign for the December 12 election, which has been dominated by Britain’s looming exit from the EU but also by promises to end a decade of austerity measures.
Labour wants to nationalise the water, railways and mail delivery companies, and invest hundreds of billions of pounds in infrastructure and public services.
Johnson’s Conservatives, who were responsible for the belt-tightening measures since 2010, have also promised big investments but not on the same scale.
Only eight percent of UK premises are connected to full-fibre broadband, compared to 97 percent in Japan and 98 percent in South Korea, Labour says.