A Labour government will bring “free full-fibre broadband for all” by 2030, the party announced today.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the plan would “challenge rip-off ‘out-of-contract’ pricing” and would “literally eliminate bills for millions of people across the UK.”
The party says it will bring Openreach – the division of BT that connects homes to broadband – under public ownership, calling the service British Broadband.
But Labour haven’t revealed the full cost of their plans.
How much will it cost?
Mr McDonnell said today that “Every part of this plan has been legally vetted, checked with experts, and costed.”
Labour have put the cost of setting up a nationwide full fibre broadband scheme at £20.3bn.
They’re keen to point out that this figure has been independently verified. It comes straight from analysis by consultants Frontier Economics, which was published by the government last year.
It refers to the cost of setting up and building full-fibre broadband nationwide.
But the report does not include the cost of buying Openreach, which is a key part of Labour’s plan.
We asked Labour what the actual cost of nationalisation will be. They said: “On public ownership (not discussed in the Frontier Economics report), we have said we would follow the usual legal precedent of allowing Parliament to set the price of compensation.”
So we won’t know for certain what the total cost of the policy is unless and until Labour are in government.
How long will it take?
As part of their announcement today, Labour criticised the government for its current policy on broadband, which the party says “will mean building won’t start until November 2021”.
But the Frontier Economics report says a national monopoly would be “highly likely to require a lengthy implementation phase” because of the significant changes required to the law.
The report concludes that under a system of the kind Labour are proposing, “there will be a delay of three to five years before the monopolist will start rolling out its fibre network”.
So, according to the report they cite elsewhere, Labour’s policy could take even longer to get off the ground than the government’s. Although it’s worth saying that once it’s underway, the roll-out would happen at a faster pace (3 million homes a year).
We put this to Labour, who said: “Our approach to monopoly provision, designed with experts, can be initiated immediately. That is faster than the Conservatives’ model not starting until 2021. We think it is legitimate to draw the contrast between the models.”
What have the Conservatives promised?
The Conservatives’ position on broadband is pretty hazy.
In July this year, Boris Johnson wrote in the Telegraph: “We should commit now to delivering full-fibre to every home in the land not in the mid-2030s — but in five years at the outside.” In other words, full-fibre nationwide by 2025.
But since then, he seems to have walked back the commitment, and ministers now say they want “gigabit-capable” coverage “as soon as possible” — rather less ambitious than the summer campaign pledges from the Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson said today: “We are funding a huge program of investment in our roads, in telecoms, gigabyte broadband.”
As for full-fibre, the last we heard from the government on this was that they’d aim for national coverage by 2033, but that was according to a report published last year.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have yet to publish their manifestos, which may reveal more detail on the parties’ policies.
By Patrick Worrall and Georgina Lee