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Broadband and Mobile Policy by Political Party in Wales and Scotland

Monday, April 26th, 2021 (3:00 pm) - Score 600
Businessman hand putting voting paper in the ballot box, Voting concept

Anybody living in Wales or Scotland will be aware that both are currently preparing for their 2021 Parliamentary Elections, which are due to take place on 6th May 2021. As such we thought it might be useful to take a quick look at what each of the main parties are promising in terms of broadband and mobile policy.

As always we remain a broadly political neutral website and over the past two decades we’ve been just as happy to praise, as well as criticise, the failings of both past and present Government’s with equal measure. In that sense we tend to judge political pledges by how detailed, practical and economically viable they are, but we’ll avoid saying X is better than Z; that’s for you to judge.

In that sense it’s always worth adopting the “pinch of salt” approach to manifestos from political parties, since they’re almost always quite vague, and we all know how dependable politicians are when it comes to keeping their word on broadband and mobile commitments once reality strikes (e.g. Boris Johnson’s original “full fibre” for all by 2025 pledge or the SNP’s superfast broadband R100 ambition for 2021).

One other key point to make is that, for devolved regions, broadband policy tends to be a matter for Westminster (UK Government). However, it’s not unusual for local and devolved authorities to contribute their own public funding to help major investment schemes to achieve a better result (this was true for many of England’s BDUK schemes too).

Welsh Election Parties

Labour

The manifesto only mentions broadband once: “The Welsh Labour Government has stepped in where the UK Tory Government has failed by investing £200m to help 750,000 premises get fast-fibre broadband.” Later it also mentions plans to: “Take forward our new Digital Strategy for Wales and upgrade our digital and communications infrastructure.” Meanwhile, mobile connectivity isn’t highlighted anywhere.

The lack of detail from the party of Government in Wales is a little surprising, particularly as they don’t mention the ongoing FTTP rollout via the latest BT (Openreach) contract extension (here). But in fairness they’re in the middle of deciding on the future direction for Wales alongside the UK’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme (here), so it might have been quite difficult to set any targets.

Conservatives

The manifesto makes a vague promise toward “building better roads, rail and broadband.” On top of that they also talk about supporting “rural businesses and enable more people to work from home by eliminating mobile phone and broadband black spots through removing barriers to network improvements and creating a £50 million Not-Spot Fund.”

Sadly, there’s no mention of any time-scale for this or a definition of what they mean by “broadband” (30Mbps, 100Mbps, Gigabit etc.).

Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales)

Broadband gets quite a few mentions in this manifesto. The party starts off by pledging that “super-fast broadband will be available to every property and business in Wales” and saying they’ll “work with the UK Government to improve rural connectivity – particularly broadband and mobile phone services.”

However, the manifesto soon gets much more specific by promising to “deliver ultra-fast gigabit broadband to all Welsh homes and businesses by 2026″ (we’ll overlook that conflation of ultrafast with gigabit terminology), and supporting this by developing “a national connectivity strategy, combining our plans for integrated green public transport with those for broadband improvement.

Elsewhere, there’s talk of incentivising local government in committing to purchasing full fibre broadband services, “as a means of providing certainty of demand and encouraging investment.” So far so good, but then they also pledge to “develop a national Welsh-based publicly owned or mutual broadband network company to address connectivity in parts of Wales.” Politicians usually get such things wrong (e.g. Digital Region in South Yorkshire); much may depend upon the detail.

Finally, they also promise to change the planning laws so that all new buildings are built with gigabit-capable broadband from the outset, which mirrors what is already being done in England. Overall, it’s a constructive set of pledges, although that 2026 date is highly debatable and no funding commitments are mentioned.

Reform UK

We couldn’t find any mention of broadband or mobile connectivity in their manifesto.

Liberal Democrats

The LibDem’s promise to “invest in broadband and mobile phone connectivity,” while also providing training and support to “enable businesses to transition to a new ‘virtual high street’” (virtual high street? – sounds like online shopping). On top of that there’s related talk of “creating employment hubs to enable remote working” and “changing planning rules” in order to make it easier and quicker to install “fibre broadband.”

The party also aims to “maximise the use of public assets, such as buildings and land, to drive investment in mobile phone infrastructure, with a focus on rural communities, and work with Wales-based suppliers to roll out connectivity solutions.”

Finally, we also get a solid target to go along with all this, which sees the party aiming to “ensure that in the next five years at least 90% of homes and businesses in Wales have access to full fibre broadband.” But there’s no mention of where the funding for this will come from, although we suspect that this might be achieved via the UK’s government’s existing Project Gigabit commitment.

Greens

The Green Party seems to mention broadband a handful of times, but the closest we get to a commitment is this vague extract: “Providing equal access to the benefits of the broadband revolution for deprived communities in Wales. Supporting essential hardware, software and bandwidth at affordable cost for easier business and personal communication and local hubs linked to libraries and community settings.” Mobile connectivity isn’t covered.

Scottish Election Parties

Labour

The manifesto starts off by proposing “targeted support for households which may not have broadband access,” albeit without giving that any real definition. On top of that there’s some vague talk about the need to “speed up the infrastructure and access to full-fibre broadband to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and encourage flexible working options, particularly in rural and disadvantaged areas.”

Overall, the party pledges to “invest in coastal protections, better flood management, full-fibre broadband, 4G/5G extensions and digital hubs for rural communities that will underpin rural small businesses’ future success.” If only they’d back that up with some funding, targets and a bit more detail.

Greens

Perhaps we missed it, but their manifesto appeared to be devoid of any mention concerning improvements in broadband and mobile connectivity.

SNP

As the party of Government in Scotland we already have a pretty good idea of their plans via the Reaching 100% (R100) programme (here, here and here) and 4G Infill Programme (here), which their manifesto echoes: “Our £579 million investment in the expansion of superfast broadband means every home and business in South and Central Scotland will have access by 2023, with work in the North of Scotland completed in the next five years.” The catch being that the original goal was to finish this by the end of 2021.

The SNP also intends to continue offering broadband vouchers worth up to £5,000 for disadvantaged rural premises. On top of that they plan to “press for £300 million” from the UK Government’s Project Gigabit programme in order to “enable Scotland to reach 85% gigabit capable by 2025” (i.e. matching the UK target).

Finally, they promise to “update planning and building regulations and rules so that digital connectivity is treated as an essential utility, like energy and water, and is standard in all new housing developments in the future. We will extend the current 10 year rates relief on new fibre broadband investment for a further 5 years” (the latter has already been announced).

Liberal Democrats

The manifesto starts off well enough by recognising the need for “reliable mobile phone signals” and calling out delays to the R100 programme, but they’re only able to follow this up by making a very vague commitment to “roll out superfast broadband to support business growth, education and public services in rural areas.”

Finally, the party promises to “establish a Scottish Standard for Housing to apply across all forms of tenure, to include zero emission heat, energy performance, lifetime accessibility and a minimum of gigabit-ready broadband. Such a clear standard will allow the construction industry to both contribute to and benefit from a green recovery.”

Conservatives

The Conservatives also start by highlighting the many R100 delays, but they then proceed to set a solid target for broadband: “We can deliver full fibre broadband for every household and business in our country by 2027 … We will use all levers of government to achieve this ambition, including the tax system, planning rules and skills development. We would bring forward legislation requiring every new home to be built with a full fibre connection.” Mobile gets a brief mention too, but only on the assumption that it will benefit from the full fibre policy.

Under the existing £5bn Project Gigabit programme the 2027 date isn’t impossible, although this might have made more sense had they simply adopted the more technology neutral “gigabit-capable” terminology, instead of trying to promise that every home and businesses will be able to get FTTP by that same date (harder and ignores much of Virgin Media’s prior contribution).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. John H says:

    Jam tomorrow.

  2. Damien says:

    Just moved from West Wales – get this on redirect – Why would I vote for Drayford? He has a head full of dreams and a son in prison for rape of a minor – and that’s not libelous – anyone can look that up.

    Slimy character and I hope he is voted OUT!

  3. Michael V says:

    Thank you for this. Good to see Plaid are making good plans…

  4. WonkoTheSaneUK says:

    I direct your attention to the “3 rules of political campaigning” (what I invented)

    1: Promise ANYTHING
    2: Deliver NOTHING
    3: Blame THE OPPOSITION

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