Like everybody else we were caught by surprise by Labour’s announcement on Friday Nov 15 that if they win power they plan to create two new nationalised entities to roll out fibre and offer free broadband under the brand British Broadband. The first we heard about this was on Thursday evening in a text from a senior contact at Openreach asking if we had any knowledge on the subject. Nobody in the industry saw the policy coming – even BT and other large players like Virgin Media and Vodafone were blind-sided. As recently as the party conference BT were assured that they would not be a target for nationalisation. Our contacts in the Labour Party did not know about the dramatic policy shift.
On Friday there were conference calls between industry people who could be brought together quickly and a letter criticising the policy drafted to be sent to the Labour team and media. On the calls it was decided the letter should be sent collectively from ISPA, INCA, BSG and TechUK. The content of the letter is reproduced below.
The potential of nationwide full fibre access and the transformative benefits it will bring to the UK are clear. However, as an industry, we believe Labour’s proposals will undermine the significant investment and existing network build already underway, leave consumers with reduced choice and risk thousands of jobs both now and in the future.
We stand ready to work in partnership with the next UK Government to deliver future proofed broadband to the UK as soon as possible. The diverse telecoms sector has already committed billions into rolling out broadband, but Labour’s plans would cause this private sector investment to grind to a halt. With the right support from Government to reduce barriers and focus public investment on the hardest to reach areas, the industry is well placed to accelerate rollout.
These proposals expose a fundamental misunderstanding of how broadband is delivered in the UK and will set back the rollout of gigabit connections across the country for years to come.
Labour’s plans do not just impact BT, Openreach and other operators investing in new networks. They also fundamentally jeopardise the 600+ other communications businesses that use these infrastructures to connect their customers. These businesses appear to have no role to play in Labour’s nationalised broadband service, with the sector’s 181,000 employees left out in the cold.
There is no such thing as ‘free’ broadband and these proposals wildly underestimate the level of investment required to deliver full nationwide coverage and the operational costs of delivering services. This is not to mention the billions already pledged to connect millions of premises across the country that would be wasted.
The sector recognises the need to deliver. Consumers and businesses have a right to expect faster, future proof connections and these are already being delivered in this timeframe, but this top-down restructuring of the market will only cause delay. That is why we are building and investing in future-proofed digital infrastructure across the UK.
Our industry looks to work with the next Government in a meaningful way to produce a cost-effective and viable solution to accelerate rollout.
Andrew Glover, Chair, Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA)
Malcolm Corbett, CEO, Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA)
Julian David, CEO, techUK
Clare MacNamara BSG, Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG)
Clearly the policy will only be put into effect if Labour wins a sufficiently large majority at the General Election and decide to make this policy a priority amongst many competing issues. Although the election is impossible to call at this stage it looks more likely there will be a Conservative majority or another hung parliament. However if Labour win a majority we will act promtptly to develop a strategy with our members.
This issue will be a topic of discussion at the INCA AGM on 25th November in London and your views will be welcome.