The British Labour Party has announced that if it wins the coming general election (December 12 2019), it will deliver “free, superfast broadband to every house and business in Britain”.
To achieve this, the Open-reach branch of British Telecom (BT) would be brought into “public ownership”, to enable a “massive upgrade” to the UK's Internet infrastructure. The new system, “British Broadband”, would be a “public service” that will oversee a multibillion-pound plan to end the “slow and patchy coverage” in existence in the UK.
According to the leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Jeremy Corbin, broadband has gone from being “a luxury” to an “essential utility” and should be seen as a public service. “A new public service, delivering the fastest broadband free to everyone, is at the heart of Labour's plans to transform the future of our economy and society,” Mr. Corbyn said. The Internet had become such a central part of people's lives, opening up opportunities for work, creativity, entertainment and friendship.
“That's why,” Mr. Corbyn declared, “full-fibre broadband must be a public service, bringing communities together, with equal access, in an inclusive and connected society. …It's time to make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in every corner of our country. Making it free and available to all will open up opportunities for everybody, at the cutting edge of social and economic change.”
Mr. Corbyn added, “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.”
Mr. Corbyn's “Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. John McDonnell, gave details of the plan, specifying that it would “challenge the 'rip-off, out-of-contract' pricing” currently imposed on UK users. The plan would also “literally eliminate bills for millions of people across the UK”. It be rolled out in areas that have the worst broadband access, including rural and remote communities, and some inner city areas. Then would follow towns and smaller cities. It would deliver “ full-fibre broadband to the whole country within a decade,” Mr. McDonnell said.
I am amazed that the British Labour Party, which is currently facing a rightwing destabilization campaign, has summoned the courage to launch such a bold plan. On the eve of a general election, every Labour supporter is acutely aware that the right-wing British media will demonise any proposals that will reduce profits for private companies.
However, it appears that the role that the Internet plays in people's lives these days is so obvious that ideological considerations have been put aside to give the British economy a shot in the arm.
The irony of the situations is that the countries that need data to acquire a most urgently, in order to accelerate their social and economic development, and to whom Internet use is vital, are often charged prohibitively high prices for Internet services, with the result that Internet use by their citizens is inevitably limited. The Labour Party's efforts to widen the net of Internet users for the UK's relatively well-served communities, should therefore serve as an eye-opener to those us in developing countries.
One wakes up in Accra or Kumasi and one is never sure whether one's Internet connection would be strong and fast. If one runs out of data peremptorily, one may need to make a journey to go and buy “scratch cards” with which to recharge one's credit. Couldn't the time wasted doing this be utilized for some more productive activity?
Then, there is the question of the price charged for using the Internet. We've sat down and allowed the Telcos to form a cartel called “The Chamber of Telecommunications”, through which they compare prices and ensure that no company undercuts the others too much. I laugh when I wonder whether members of our government have forgotten that there was once an institution in “the Gold Coast” Ghana called the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM)!
The Telcos also carry out some practices that are blatantly abhorrent to the principle of free trade, such as arbitrarily “expiring” credit that customers have purchased but have not managed to use. Why should the unused credit expire? ANSWER: Because our regulatory body, the National Communications Authority (NCA), is too timorous to take on the telcos on behalf of the customers the NCA was established to protect.
So abject is the failure of the NCA to enforce the regulations that ensure fair-play that the Authority's own Minister was moved to direct the Authority to stop the telcos from “expiring” unexpired credits. Now, there is no sign that the telcos has complied with the directive. And yet, the NCA is still in situ! What a country!
No — any practices that obstruct the free flow of information can bring untold harm to an economy. We should not be left helpless in the hands of companies that pursue a ruthless course of profit-making.
There are many people in the British Labour Party who do not subscribe to the idea of state intervention in the economy. But they have been witness to the fact that the British National Health Service, for instance, has been partially crippled by hiving off of some of its services and functions to private companies. It was the Conservatives who having been doing that. And that is why they cannot woo too many Labour Party members in the coming election. Sentimentality will give way to massive support for Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, who, it is hoped, will truly transform the broadband scene in the UK, among other achievements.
By CAMERON DUODU
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