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Why no political party has a great plan to change the broadband landscape

Real Business unveils what the three main parties had to say about changing the broadband landscape – and why their plans won't meet expectations.
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Pledges to change the broadband landscape may not be the deciding factor for your vote, but with increasing emphasis placed on workplace connectivity and efficiency, we thought it important to see how the main political parties would make things easier for business.

In taking a closer look, however, a few concerns popped up. For example, the nation was hoping the parties would address how the House of Commons voted down amendments that would have seen Brits getting full-fibre broadband speeds of at least 2Gbps. Only one party delivered on this front.

The move came off the back of a rushed Digital Economy Bill, which saw numerous pieces of legislation dropped in order to pass it ahead of the general election – it was the reason why the original plan for broadband speeds of 10Mbps was used instead of the ambitious 30Mbps.

Of course, the latter was picked up by the Scottish National Party, with Nicola Sturgeon being the only one to claim she could boost broadband for 100 per cent of the populace. There were worries it would proove too challenging though. UKIP failed to deliver on the broadband front, deciding to swoop in with policies around immigration and the banning of the European flag. The Green Party also lacked in this area, though was vocal about other digital endeavours.

With none of the three – of which only one sought to better broadband – looking set to win the election, we took a look at how the three main parties planned to change the broadband landscape.

Conservatives

The Conservatives have largely followed the commitments made by chancellor Philip Hammond in the Spring Budget, boosted by the party’s ambition of making Britain a leader in 5G development. The plan is to have the majority of the population covered by a 5G signal by 2027.

That’s why, in line with prime minister Theresa May’s Industrial Strategy, steps have been taken to create a National 5G Innovation Network hub, with £200m worth of funding going to projects that will accelerate market delivery of full-fibre broadband networks.

A chunky piece of text was dedicated to the broadband landscape in their manifesto, but the problem is that decided broadband speed of 10Mbps. There’s nothing “superspeed” about it – that’s what the party promised – and it will hardly be enough to compete in 2020. The party has gone for bare minimum requirements here.

It added: “By the end of 2017, 19 out of 20 premises will have access to superfast broadband and our USO will ensure that by 2020 everyone has access to high speed broadband. We will also introduce a full-fibre connection voucher for companies by 2018, and by 2022 we will have major fibre spines in over a hundred towns and cities.”

Labour

Much of Labour’s manifesto in regards to broadband is similar to that of the Conservatives, namely its promise of superfast broadband coverage for most by 2020. That’s the clear part.

It claimed, however, that the Conservatives’ objective would mean 400,000 SMEs would still be “left with substandard broadband well into the next decade” – and that they had a better solution in giving households broadband speeds of at least 30Mbps.

But the party makes it clear that it’s more of an aspiration than it is a target. They were also incredibly vague on plans to improve 4G mobile coverage. The Labour Party also alluded to ensuring major roads and railways have “uninterrupted” 5G coverage.

This pledge is probably rife in the minds of Brits, with it having been leaked in May. The manifesto claimed: “Few things are more crucial to businesses and our economy than a fast and reliable internet connection, but 3m households and businesses have been left incapacitated by slow internet.”

Liberal Democrats

The pledge offered by the Lib Dems mirrored that of Labour in providing 30Mbps broadband speeds, but was more upfront about it being an unlimited service with an upload speed of 6Mbps. And much like Labour, the party doesn’t signify whether the commitment is legally binding.

But in a way, the Liberal Democrats offer the most change for the broadband landscape, and if its manifesto pledge sounds familiar then its because its a replica of the amendments voted down by the House of Commons.

“We will ensure that broadband connections and services to be provided before 2020 have a speed of 2Gbps or more, with fibre to the premises (FTTP) as standard and unlimited usage by 2020 across the whole of the UK. SMEs should be prioritised in the roll-out of hyperfast broadband.”

It sounds like a good deal, but we’re not certain such a speedy rollout of 2Gbps+ FTTP connections is possible. They also don’t mention mobile coverage. But on a better not, rural businesses rejoice, a political party mentioned wanting to better the business landscape beyond the nation’s tech hubs.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business