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Fast and free broadband shows how Labour would transform Britain

The massive coverage of Labour’s broadband announcement shows that we are starting to set the agenda, writes MATT WILLGRESS

IN a major announcement last week, Labour set out plans to deliver fast and free full-fibre broadband for all, by bringing parts of BT into public ownership and creating a new British broadband public service.

As Jeremy Corbyn said, these plans can be central to transforming our country and economy, “bringing communities together in an inclusive and connected society.”

Specifically, it was announced that the next Labour government will undertake a massive upgrade in online infrastructure, delivering fast, secure, reliable internet connections for everyone and putting an end to patchy and slow coverage. This will boost 5G connectivity across the country.

As part of Labour’s broader commitment to investing in those communities and regions left behind by decades of neoliberalism — and the last decade of Tory austerity — this revolutionary rollout will begin with communities that currently have the worst broadband access, including rural and remote communities and some inner-city areas.

As with all of Labour’s announcements so far — and unlike many of the Tories’ “pledges” since Boris Johnson succeeded Theresa May — this radical and realistic policy is fully costed.

It will be paid for through Labour’s green transformation fund and taxing multinational corporations such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.

Indeed, Labour also explained how every part of this plan has been legally vetted and checked with experts, in addition to being costed.

While the corporate elites will pay a little more, as John McDonnell said, this is “a plan that will challenge rip-off ‘out-of-contract’ pricing — and that will literally eliminate bills for millions of people across the UK.”

Ordinary people will also feel the benefit in our pockets — in fact, these plans would save the average person £30.30 a month.

What has been so interesting about this policy is not only how much coverage it has received (pun intended), but also the nature of reactions to it — both the wide support and how a vocal hard-right minority are desperately trying to say it is unworkable, unachievable and so forth.

This, we should remember, is exactly what opponents of the NHS said, and we should expect similar howls of derision from the TINA (there is no alternative) brigade throughout this election campaign, whenever Labour announces policies to transform Britain for the better.

In fact, there is nothing unaffordable or unrealistic about full-fibre broadband for all.

Indeed, while it is the case that only 8-10 per cent of premises are connected to full-fibre broadband, the figures elsewhere are much higher, including 97 per cent in Japan and 98 per cent in South Korea.

You might even say that for the future of our economy and society, we can’t afford not to do it.

As is the case with all of Labour’s key policies announced during this election, this policy is also clearly linked to the fact that we need to explain to people how we will tackle two of the greatest challenges we face — the crises in living standards and climate change respectively.

Again and again, we need to get the message across that the solution to them is the same, namely a root-and-branch transformation of our economy, brought about by investing in our future.

In terms of these policies and tackling the climate emergency, not only could a full-fibre broadband network help the economy by boosting productivity by £59 billion by 2025; bringing half a million people back into the workforce and boosting rural economies.

With an estimated 270,000 people more able to move to rural areas, it could also help the planet by resulting in 300 million fewer commuting trips, three billion fewer kilometres travelled by car, and a 360,000-tonne reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

It would also strengthen both economic equality and social inclusion — another area where Labour’s plan stands in stark contrast to the Tories’ record of governing only for the 1 per cent.

As Rebecca Long Bailey put it: “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.”

People up and down the country are debating this policy since it was announced. And that is exactly what Labour needs people to being doing — to start a conversation where we explain to others what the real change we are offering could mean to them, what real change feels like, and what real change looks like.

And when we do change Britain, as Corbyn said this week with regards to this policy: “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.”

Matt Willgress is the national organiser of the Labour Assembly Against Austerity and the editor of Labour Outlook.

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