The Labour Party has pledged to invest £1.6 billion to guarantee superfast broadband speeds of at least 30 Mbps to all households by 2022.
In contrast, the government’s proposed universal service obligation (USO) for broadband aims to deliver 10 Mbps connections to all households by 2020.
A 30 Mbps USO isn’t an entirely new proposition: it was included in Labour’s 2017 General Election manifesto and the House of Lords has shown support. But this is the first time Labour has assigned a sum to the proposal. Previously, Ofcom has estimated that a universal 30 Mbps rollout would cost between £1.4 and £2 billion.
The current £1.7 billion Broadband Delivery programme projects that it will deliver broadband infrastructure capable of 30 Mbps speeds to 97% to 98% of homes by 2020. It has long been speculated that a universal service obligation may be needed to reach the last 2% to 3% of residences, many of which are in remote and rural areas and are currently struggling with the slowest speeds in the UK.
It is unclear whether Labour’s pledge will involve a legally binding USO or a soft service commitment.
Labour is concerned that a no-deal Brexit could widen the gap between rural and urban internet speeds and leave some rural communities already struggling with insufficient internet connections further behind. The party cites research from the London School of Economics that areas with poor broadband speeds will be hit hardest by a no-deal exit from the EU.
Last month, the government outlined plan to deliver full-fibre connections, which can boast speeds of up to 1 Gbps or 1000 Mbps, to 15 million homes by 2025 and to all residences by 2033—a significantly longer timescale. The government hopes to galvanise commercial investment in full-fibre infrastructure by opening up OpenReach ducts and poles to competitors and requiring full-fibre connections as standard in new-build homes but acknowledges public investment of between £3 billion and £5 billion will be required to reach the last 10% of homes.