THE BLOG

General Election Manifestos: What Does the Future Hold for UK Broadband?

30/04/2015 10:09 BST | Updated 28/06/2015 10:59 BST

The race to the General Election has started and the political parties have now all released their manifestos ahead of 7 May. Anyone who tuned in for the Budget last month will already know what the Tories are proposing for the future of the UK's broadband infrastructure - essentially faster speeds to more households - but how do their plans for Digital Britain fare when pitted against the other parties?

Some people in the furthest reaches of the UK are being left behind in the race for a digital Britain. They are missing out on the advantages that a reliable internet connection brings, such as ability to compare prices on household bills and find cheaper products, combat isolation and access vital services online.

The Conservatives

In between the usual mud slinging on Budget Day, Chancellor George Osborne pledged an ambition for ultrafast internet speeds - of 100Mbps or higher - to nearly all UK premises. The Government says it's still on track to deliver superfast speeds to 95% of premises by 2017, and expects mobile networks to have furnished us with 98% 4G coverage by the same deadline. Welcome news for those who, even in 2015, are still blighted by a poor or non-existent broadband connections. Not such good news for the 2% of UK premises that will have neither superfast broadband or 4G.

Nevertheless, the proposals are an important step towards making decent quality broadband, now regarded as an essential service, available to (almost) all. And the same sentiment is echoed in Labour's manifesto.

Labour

Labour have committed to rolling out high-speed broadband to the entire country by the end of their five-year term, and have outlined (roughly) how they plan to do it. They say they would work closely with industry bodies and the regulator to maximise private sector investment and deliver the mobile infrastructure needed to extend coverage and reduce 'not spots', including in areas of market failure. However, they have not defined exactly what speed this 100% coverage will be at.

The Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems are also making big promises. They are planning a complete rollout of high-speed broadband to reach 99.9% of households in the UK, benefitting homes and small businesses in rural and urban areas. With an impressive target of providing high-speed connectivity to almost the entire UK, it will be interesting to see exactly how they intend to execute it and where their focus will be. In terms of infrastructure investment and the technology used to operate this, we don't yet know how they plan to work with providers, their views on costing or whether there will be any projects to help the digitally isolated.

Scottish National Party

Over to the SNP, who have put a big emphasis on improving broadband in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon has pledged additional investment to facilitate a quicker rollout of superfast broadband and 4G north of the border, hitting 95% coverage by the end of 2017.

The SNP say they want a Universal Service Obligation on telecoms and broadband providers will ensure even disadvantaged communities have access to the broadband they need. Rather like the SNP's pledge to provide £1.5m of funding to increase free Wi-Fi in public buildings, this is designed to be a real crowd pleaser, especially amongst those frustrated with broadband accessibility - although it might not be quite so popular with providers. Some decent broadband pledges for residents of Scotland.

The Green Party

Meanwhile, the Greens are all about cutting costs for small and medium-sized businesses. They plan to do this by making telecoms operators accountable for providing affordable, high-speed broadband to every small business.

Providing low-cost and reliable broadband to start-ups and micro-businesses is welcomed, but the Greens haven't highlighted the broadband needs of consumers or the desperate need to improve rural broadband.

UKIP

And finally, from green to purple: UKIP hasn't given us a particularly colourful description of their broadband policy. In fact, they've not mentioned broadband at all.

Whoever gets to run the country next must be aware that it's not just access to reliable broadband that needs to be addressed. Further steps could still be taken to make the availability and benefits of superfast and ultrafast broadband clear, so that everyone in the UK has both the ability and the confidence to get online.

Labour has pledged to support community-based campaigns at grassroots level, to reduce the numbers of people unable to use the internet and help those who may have access to the internet, but lack the skills and digital know-how to access it. That's a step in the right direction. These smaller and more targeted campaigns are great for consumers - especially the older generations. What's the point in giving fast and reliable broadband to the whole country, if not everyone knows how to use it?

There is nothing included in any manifesto about broadband affordability - a missed opportunity. To really be successful, the next Government will also need to ensure broadband is affordable to all, rather than most - especially for those who are isolated or vulnerable.