Jeremy Corbyn has formally launchedLabor’s ambitious plan to provide free broadband across the UK, arguing it would guarantee what is now a basic utility, encourage social cohesion, bolster the economy and help the environment.
In a lengthy event during which two of his senior ministers presented the plan – which has prompted accusations it is unrealistic and could hamper the market – Corbyn said the service would become “our treasured public institution for the 21 st century ”.
“What was once a luxury is now an essential utility,” theLaborleader told an audience at Lancaster University. “I think it’s too important to be left to the corporations. Only the government has the planning ability, economies of scale and ambition to take this on. ”
The plan would involve nationalizing elements of BT connected to broadband provision, forming a new company called BritishBroadband. Labor says it would cost about £ 20 bn to roll out universal full-fiber broadband by 2030.
Corbyn portrayed the idea as a central element of “the most radical and exciting plan for real change the British public has ever seen”, in the Labor manifesto, being launched next week, saying: “It’s going to knock your socks off – you’re going to love it. ”
He added: “I don’t want anyone to be able to say, a few years into a Labor government, that nothing ever changes or that politicians are all the same.”
The shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, told the event that all affected staff would be transferred to the new organization on the same pay and conditions, while other companies that bundle broadband into packages including services such as pay TV and mobile phones could continue selling such add-ons.
“We wouldn’t want to interfere in that market in any way,” she said. “Certainly, providers who are already providing those enhanced services, we’d welcome that continuation.”
However, BT shares have dropped after the announcementon Thursday night. On Friday, TalkTalk said it had postponed the sale of its full-fiber broadband business, FibreNation, as it considered the implications of Labor’s proposals. BT suggested the scheme would cost closer to £ 100 bn.
Speaking at a campaign event in Oldham, Boris Johnson called the policy a “crazed communist scheme”.
In his speech, Corbyn said universal rapid broadband “must be a public service, bringing communities together with equal access in an inclusive and connected society”.
He said: “Fast and free broadband for all will fire up our economy, deliver a massive boost to productivity and bring half a million people back into the workforce. It will help our environment and tackle the climate emergency by reducing the need to commute. ”
Long-Bailey said the scheme could add 1% a year to GDP, and save 300 m commuter trips a year.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, presented the idea as being about basic social fairness: “It’s about large numbers of children being able to do their homework properly, and have the speed of connectivity.”
He also said parallel labor proposals to bring the railways and water utilities into public ownership would allow better coordination for the work of laying the cables.
The initiative will be funded from a green transformation fund, with McDonnell saying funding would come in part from a tax on internet commerce giants, based on the proportion of the global revenues they earn in the UK.
Openreach, the broadband network that is a distinct company within the BT group, is worth about £ 12 bn to £ 15 bn but the party said parliament would decide the rate of compensation. Labor has said it would issue government bonds to shareholders for all nationalisations.
TalkTalk’s half-year results were delayed on Tuesday as it was close to completing a deal for FiberNation, but the sale was paused on Friday after Labor’s announcement.
“Not surprisingly, when news of that sort lands, everybody’s reviewing, pausing for breath, and considering what that means, and that’s what happened here,” TalkTalk’s chief executive, Tristia Harrison, told the Press Association news agency.
“We are in extremely advanced discussions and negotiations,” she added. “We’re just pausing and reconsidering.”
BT’s chief executive, Philip Jansen, told the BBC Labor plans were “very, very ambitious ideas” and challenged the party’s figures.
“It needs funding, it is very big numbers, so we are talking £ 30 bn- £ 40 bn… and if you are giving it away over an eight-year timeframe it is a another £ 30 bn or £ 40 bn. You are not short of £ 100 bn, ”he said.