The Labour Party plans to partially renationalize the British telecommunications company BT and provide free broadband to every household and business by 2030 if it wins the upcoming general election.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell will make their pledge at a campaign event today in Lancashire. The party would renationalize part of BT, the former national telecoms monopoly, and introduce a tax on tech giants to pay for the proposals.
“The internet has become such a central part of our lives,” Corbyn will say, according to the Labour leader’s pre-released remarks. “What was once a luxury is now an essential utility. That’s why full-fiber broadband must be a public service.”
Labour says the project would cost £20 billion up front, then £230 million a year to maintain, with the initial funding coming from a borrowing pot for environmental measures.
The cost of renationalizing BT would be set by parliament and paid for by swapping bonds for shares. The ongoing costs for the broadband would be paid for through a tax on tech firms such as Amazon, Google and Facebook. Labour says the plan would boost the economy, increase productivity by £60 billion and spread employment more evenly.
But BT said it would actually cost significantly more to roll out full fiber across the country. Chief Executive Philip Jansen told BBC radio in an interview: “You’ve got a big capital investment, say £30 to £40 billion … and if you are giving it away over an eight-year timeframe it is another £30 or £40 billion. You are not short of £100 billion.”
Jansen added: “What’s really important to me, is my employees … our shareholders and our pensioners,” referring to former BT employees who now draw a pension from the company.
Chief executive of trade group Tech UK Julian David said in a statement: “These proposals would be a disaster for the telecoms sector and the customers that it serves. Renationalization would immediately halt the investment being driven not just by BT but the growing number of new and innovative companies that compete with BT.”
The Conservative Party called the proposal a “fantasy plan” and claimed the initial cost could top £80 billion.
Former Labour MP Chris Leslie said on Twitter: “Why so coy @uklabour? Why not throw in free SkyTV? Free iphones? Netflix and x-boxes all round?”
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