Unite has highlighted the boost free full-fibre broadband would bring to rural communities across the UK after the Labour party announced on Friday (November 15) its latest pledge.
Unveiling the policy in Lancaster, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged that a future Labour government will bring BT under public ownership and in so doing create a new British Broadband public service.
The proposal would see free full-fibre broadband delivered to all individuals and businesses by 2030 and will be paid for by Labour’s Green Transformation Fund, with the costs of maintaining the network paid by a tax on multinational companies, including tech companies such as 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,” Corbyn said in a speech on Friday (November 15). “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.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell highlighted that “every part of the plan has been legally vetted, checked with experts, and costed”, while shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey noted the impact free broadband for all would have on the economy.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
A key part of Labour’s latest pledge is that its roll-out of free broadband will begin with communities that have the very worst access, including rural and remote areas.
According to research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, a full-fibre network such as the one Labour has proposed would be a huge boost to rural economies with an estimated 270,000 more people able to move to rural areas.
Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture Bev Clarkson welcomed Labour’s latest pledge and what it will mean for people in the countryside.
“In all the excitement of this latest pledge from Labour, what’s received little attention is how free, full-fibre broadband will transform our rural communities,” she said. “Average download speeds in rural areas in the UK are about a third of what they are in cities – this is a disgrace. There’s a reason that rural and coastal communities have fallen so far behind their urban counterparts – chronic under-investment in infrastructure, including in telecoms but also in roads and public transport, drains these areas of opportunity.
“Free high-speed internet in our rural communities will be a huge boost to small businesses and local economies,” she added. “What’s more, it’ll help to bridge that ever widening gap in the countryside between the very affluent and those who are struggling to get by. What you earn should never determine your level of access to the world’s knowledge – it should be a human right.
“If we truly want all our communities across the UK to thrive, whether rural or urban, we have to think big with policies such as this one to ensure that no one is left behind.”