Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to offer free high-speed internet across Britain is canny politics and an economic idea whose time has come
Britain is in the slow lane when it comes to the internet. Fewer than one in 12 premises in Britain have access to full-fibre connections capable of delivering speeds greater than 1 gigabit per second. By comparison in Spain more than 70% can connect via such networks. In South Korea the figure is close to 100%. So Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to give every home and business in the UK free full-fibre broadband by 2030 is canny retail politics. Free stuff is popular. Labour’s offer contrasts with Boris Johnson’s decision to quietly shelve his plan to deliver an equivalent paid-for service by 2025. Labour says it will nationalise the infrastructure division of BT, Openreach, and do deals with Virgin Media among others to ensure the high-speed internet rollout plan is not bungled. It is clear the Labour party is betting that Britain is ready for a radically new approach to capitalism.
Mr Corbyn gauges that his economic ideas are ones whose time has come. Almost no one in Britain is entirely happy with the broadband service they receive. Slow connections are a source of frustration, offering sluggish Netflix streams and slurred Skype calls. The private sector is reluctant to bridge the “digital divide” without state support. In September the government offered firms £5bn to wire up rural areas but questions remain about whether and how the funds will see the light of day. With more people using data-intensive streaming services and smart devices, the appetite for data will grow. It already is. Last year the average household used 240 gigabytes of data a month, up 26% on the previous year. Access to information and connectivity is central to a fair society.