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2019 Liberal Democrats Plan “hyper-fast” Broadband Across UK

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019 (3:19 pm) - Score 1,747

The Liberal Democrats have today joined other parties by publishing their manifesto for the 2019 General Election (12th December), which includes a number of broadband and mobile connectivity commitments and promises a “programme of installing hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK” – with a focus on rural areas.

One of the big curiosities of this election is whether or not opponents to Boris Johnson (PM) might try to best his already seemingly optimistic targets for complete coverage of “gigabit-capable broadband” by the end of 2025 (here), which at present involves spending £5bn to help those in the final 20% of hardest to reach premises.

So far Labour has adopted a more feasible build target for “full fibre” of 2030 and pledged to invest another £15.3bn, although they’ve also raised a few eyebrows with their plans for nationalising and offering free full fibre to all homes and businesses (here). By comparison the Liberal Democrats seem to have opted for a more cautious and less radical approach, albeit lacking in some detail (sadly all too normal for manifestos).

Overall the manifesto includes several commitments under a number of different categories and we’ve summarised them below. We’ve also included some of their internet regulation related policies below.

NOTE: Readers should always take political pledges, from any party, with a pinch of salt until there’s more solid detail (something manifestos always lack).

Liberal Democrat Pledges on Digital Connectivity

● A programme of installing hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK – with a particular focus on connecting rural areas.

● Reform building standards to ensure that all new homes built from 2022 have full connectivity to ultra-fast broadband and are designed to enable the use of smart technologies.

● Prioritise small and medium-sized businesses in the rollout of hyper-fast broadband.

● Ensure that all households and businesses have access to superfast broadband (30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload).

● Invest £2 billion in innovative solutions to ensure the provision of high-speed broadband across the UK, working with local authorities and providing grants to help areas replicate the success of existing community-led projects.

● Invest in mobile data infrastructure and expand it to cover all homes.

● End the bulk collection of communications data and internet connection records.

● Support free media and a free and open internet, championing the free flow of information.

We assume by “hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband” they mean “full fibre” (FTTP), although the lack of a solid definition is disappointing and so too is the lack of a clear timetable for achieving this across the UK. Meanwhile the decision to focus their roll-out on rural areas is roughly in keeping with other parties, where an outside-in style strategy now seems to be the norm in order to tackle the hardest to reach locations.

The pledge to reform building standards is good, although the current government appears to be trying something similar with their still on-going consultations (here) and the trend suggests that most new builds are already getting full fibre (i.e. hitting 100% by 2022 is viable). However it’s unclear whether this will also apply to projects that were previously granted planning permission, which is important because there can be a gap of several years between permission and the start of a build.

At this point we get a slightly conflicting commitment to ensure that all premises can access a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload) service, which sounds a lot like the Universal Service Obligation (USO) that was proposed and rejected a few years ago. The current Government went with 10Mbps (1Mbps upload) instead since 30Mbps would be expensive and might have created some issues with overbuild / competition (plus delivering on 30Mbps as a USO from 2020 would be difficult).

After this there’s the talk of investing £2bn, which we assume must be for the 30Mbps+ plan because similar cost estimates have been given by Ofcom and the BSG for such a USO in the past. On top of that it mentions “high-speed” rather than “hyper-fast, fibre-optic“. The lack of clarity here is likely to cause some confusion.

Meanwhile the commitment to “invest in mobile data infrastructure and expand it to cover all homes” would appear to point toward universal mobile coverage, which Ofcom has previously estimated could cost up to £6bn (here). Sadly there’s no mention of who will pay for this. The current Government is aiming for 95% geographic 4G coverage by around 2025 (here) and that’s at a cost of £1bn through an industry-led scheme.

Elsewhere we suspect the LibDems will find some good support from industry figures and privacy advocates on their plan to “end the bulk collection of communications data and internet connection records.” The additional commitment to support “free media and a free and open internet” is also to be welcomed, although the current Government and EU already advocate an open internet policy (net neutrality). However the government’s Online Harms White Paper may threaten some of that protection.

What do you think of the Liberal Democrats' broadband policy?

  • I don't like it (53%, 78 Votes)
  • I like it (33%, 49 Votes)
  • I'm undecided (14%, 20 Votes)

Total Voters: 147

Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar mike says:

    Even guaranteed 100% coverage of FTTH by the end of 2019 would be too high a price to pay for having Jo Tory-in-all-but-name Swinson as PM.

  2. Avatar beany says:

    Their pledges contradict each other and lack any detail on where the money will come from, has no detail at all saying anywhere if it will be 100% FTTP/H (dunno where the poster above read that) or any detail on how their goals will be reached.

    Borris and Corbyn had some lofty (some would say daft) ideas for broadband, but at least they tried to justify how they were going to reach them. The lib dems once again just read of rainbows and unicorns with no explanation on how they are going to capture either. Mindless, lack of detail promises for the snowflake sheeple.

    1. Avatar dee.jay says:

      It’s all about 1-upping the other guy to get votes. Plain and simple, especially in the Lib Dem case.

    2. Avatar A_Builder says:

      Well £5Bn spend on the non commercial is the sort of amount that can be found down the back of the national sofa over 5 years and I don’t have too much trouble believing that it can be found and it will do a good percentage of the job. What I don’t belive is that the job can be done by 2025.

      I do believe that a lot of the country can be covered by 1G/1G if you count VM in and they can be persuaded to upgrade the more easily upgradable portions of their network.

      As for Corbyn’s promise – I belive more in unicorns. The amount of upheaval that it would take to reorganise BT into British Broadband would itself slow things up ridiculously. Also all the present commercial rollout would stop overnight. Then factor in years of litigation that would go all over the place as it would clash with international treaty obligations regarding expropriation of assets. So, setting aside the massively higher costs of doing this centrally, I honestly belive it would take far, far longer. And the current commercial approach would get most of the way before this got off the ground.

      So if you did go down the Corbyn route of handing out free broadband it would be cheaper and faster to give everyone a subsidy voucher for a basic FTTP USO broadband and then let punters upsell themselves to better levels of performance. No point in stopping commercial roll out. The increased levels of take up would boost RoI for the networks and enable faster reinvestment into the network expansion and upgrade.

      But until I can find some rocking horse poop I won’t believe it.

    3. Avatar Go away says:

      Of the 3 main parties Boris on broadband seems the most realistic, with only the 2025 goal doubtful.

      Labours idea is pure madness

      Lib Dems idea is not really an idea (like most of their daydreams) just complete confusion as to what they would do, if you read it carefully….
      “A programme of installing hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK – with a particular focus on connecting rural areas.
      Prioritise small and medium-sized businesses in the rollout of hyper-fast broadband.
      Ensure that all households and businesses have access to superfast broadband (30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload).

      So one minute its the rurals that are most important for “hyper-fast” broadband, then its small and medium sized business that would be most priority. And then it all falls apart as apparently most homes and business rural or not are gonna get 30Mb.

      The only thing “hyper-fast” seems to have been ill ill thought out manifesto promises.

      Hell what even is “hyper-fast” broadband? Anyone?????

    4. Avatar beany says:

      I think for broadband the conservatives/Boris idea seems the only feasible one, it may need more money and a longer amount of time but the fundamentals to the idea are there.

      Labours/Corbyns idea is just pure bonkers and would ruin business

      And the Lib Dems/Swinson idea just seems confused in every manner. You do not even know what they are aiming for.

  3. Avatar Ryan says:

    I’d rather have absolutely no broadband at all than run the risk of putting Swinson in power

  4. Avatar Jazzy says:

    The only thing that’s hyper is that 6th form teenager running the show at the Lib Dems

    According to the Times, the more you see her, the more you dislike

  5. Avatar Z says:

    This idea is definitely more thought out than Labour’s idea. But I’m not sure if it’s very wise.

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