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UK's Labour vows to nationalise some of BT in free broadband plan

The sweeping upgrade of Britain's internet infrastructure would be paid for by raising taxes on tech firms such as Alphabet's Google, Amazon and Facebook and using its Green Transformation fund, Labour said. It said it would nationalise Openreach ...

Reuters|
Nov 15, 2019, 11.55 PM IST
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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
LONDON: Britain's opposition Labour Party said it would nationalise parts of telecoms provider BT's network if it won power in the Dec. 12 election to provide free full-fibre broadband for all.

The sweeping upgrade of Britain's internet infrastructure would be paid for by raising taxes on tech firms such as Alphabet's Google, Amazon and Facebook and using its Green Transformation fund, Labour said.

Labour said it would nationalise Openreach - the digital network arm of the country's biggest broadband and mobile phone provider - as well as parts of BT Technology, BT Enterprise and BT Consumer.

"It's time to make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in every corner of the country," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will say in a speech, according to an extract released by the party.

"By creating British Broadband as a public service, 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."

Labour said the cost of nationalising parts of BT would be set by parliament and paid for by swapping bonds for shares.

A BT spokesman said in an emailed statement that rolling out full-fibre broadband and 5G across Britain should be a top political priority. He did not specifically address Labour's nationalisation plan.

"Whatever the result of the election, we'd encourage the next government to work with all parts of the industry to achieve that," the spokesman said.

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Currently, fewer than 10% of British premises have access to full-fibre broadband - also called fibre to the premises, where fibre optic cable instead of copper is used to connect homes to the network.

Labour said it would roll out the free broadband to all individuals and businesses by 2030, providing it to at least 15 million to 18 million premises within five years. It said the plan would save the average person 30.30 pounds a month.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already promised to roll out full-fibre broadband to all homes by 2025 with an investment of 5 billion pounds ($6.40 billion) if his Conservatives, who are leading in the opinion polls, win the election.

BT's Chief Executive Philip Jansen said last month that Johnson's timescale would be extremely difficult to achieve and said the company would need the government and the regulator to create conditions that would allow it to make a fair return.

The company, which was privatised by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1984, said it could fund the 25 billion to 30 billion pound cost of building a full-fibre network by issuing debt, reallocating capex, disposing assets, and by cutting its dividend.

Under its plans, Labour said there would be a one-off capital cost of 15.3 billion pounds to deliver the full-fibre network, on top of the 5 billion already promised by Johnson.
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