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16.11.2019 Feature Article

The British Labour Party Plans To Make The Internet Free For Britons. What About Us?

The British Labour Party Plans To Make The Internet Free For Britons. What About Us?

Miracle of miracles – the British Labour Party, which has been under a persistent right-wing attack, based on the false allegation that it has numerous ”anti-semitic” elements among its high officials, has summoned the courage to put the word “renationalisation” (which the right-wing hate more than anything!) in its manifesto for the coming general election ((December 12 2019).

In the manifesto, Labour says it will “renationalise” parts of British Telecom, so as to “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 [note the words!] “public ownership”, to enable a “massive upgrade” to the UK’s Internet infrastructure. The new system, “British Broadband”, would be a [again note the words!] “public service” that will oversee a multibillion-pound plan to end the “slow and patchy coverage” in existence in the UK.

“Slow and patchy coverage”? But isn't there supposed to be “competition” among businesses in Britain, and isn't “competition” supposed to bring “efficiency” into the practices of business and industry?

Well, according to the leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Jeremy Corbin, although broadband has gone from being “a luxury” to an “essential utility”, it is not as good as it should be. “It” [broadband] “should be seen as a public service, Mr Corbyn stated. Broadband should be “a new public service, delivering the fastest broadband free to everyone.” This is “at the heart of Labour’s plans to transform the future of our economy and society,” Mr. Corbyn affirmed. The Internet had become “such a central part of people’s lives, opening up opportunities for work, creativity, entertainment and friendship”, that it should be “free” for everyone.

Mr. Corbyn added: “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. 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, giving details of the plan, specified that it would, in particular, “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 right-wing destabilization campaign, marked by the resignation of its deputy leader (no less) Mr Tom Watson, on the even of a general election, has nevertheless summoned the courage to launch such a bold plan. As they prepare for the general election, every Labour supporter is acutely aware that the right-wing British media will demonise any proposals that will reduce the profits of the rich, which they perpetuate through the ownership of private companies.

However, the current Labour membership is not intimidated by the right-wing media, relying as most do, on Internet social networks for their information and discussion. The role that the Internet plays in people’s lives in the UK these days is so vital that ideological considerations have become less relevant to many voters. Who wants the Daily Mailor the Daily Express to t be the arbiter of what's good for Britain? The effectiveness of the Internet, on the other hand, is recognised by all, and Labour's idea of making it freely available, will undoubtedly give the British economy a shot in the arm.

The irony of the situation is that the countries that need to acquire data most urgently, in order to accelerate their social and economic development, and to whom Internet use is therefore extremely vital, are often charged prohibitively high prices, for Internet services. The result is that Internet use by the citizens of developing countries is inevitably limited. If the Labour Party, which operates on a very developed home base, finds it necessary to enact measures to widen the net of Internet users for the UK’s relatively well-served communities, then we should allow that to open our own eyes.

See – 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.

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2019

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Column Page: CameronDuodu

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