The Manifestos – for broadband, a case of steady as you go

The Manifestos – for broadband, a case of steady as you go

With just over 20 days to go until the next General Election, the main political parties have now published their manifestos and whilst the result is still up for grabs it looks like policy on digital connectivity is pretty settled.

In various forms, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all pledged to continue and expand the current BDUK programme in order to drive superfast broadband to near universal levels.

All three also made commitments to continuing to improve both the digital skill level of the workforce and also tackle the digital exclusion although again, this seemed to be continuing rather than deviating from current Government policy.

The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, also outlined their ambition that “ultrafast broadband should be available to nearly all UK premises as soon as practicable” – which mirrors the recently published Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy. 

Both they and Labour also pledged to work with the mobile phone operators to expand coverage and address mobile not-spots, with Labour interestingly raising the issue of market failure – a necessary step for State Aid approval.

The Liberal Democrats devoted a whole section to the creation of a Digital Bill of Rights, picking up on calls from people such as Tim Berners-Lee, in which they would look to enshrine the right for people to control their own data. They would look to place stronger controls on public bodies accessing and storing an individual’s data including in the context of counter-terrorism surveillance, whilst the  Conservatives would push for the creation of Extremism Disruption Orders which may stop some people from communicating via social media.                                                                                                                                         

However, all in all it seems that the general direction is to push for steady improvements in connectivity and building on the current policy position – both fixed and mobile – rather than a radical departure.

This means that the main drivers of any change may come from the EU and Ofcom.  The European Commission is set to announce its strategy to deliver a Digital Single Market, which is likely to include a review of the framework for electronic communications and potential policy changes in the areas of spectrum and competition. Ofcom’s recently announced a major review of UK’s digital communications which will focus on issues related to incentives for efficient private sector investments and competition could also lead to significant remedies.

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