Tories now think broadband is a public utility that people need-to-have and Labour supporters are saying ‘I told you so’

Louis Staples
Sunday 29 March 2020 09:30
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Remember the 2019 general election?

No, us neither, we’ve tried very hard to block it all out.

But if we think really hard, we seem to remember something about the Labour Party proposing free broadband. The proposal was supposedly based on Labour's belief that, in a modern society, access to information and the opportunities that come with being connected online should be available to us all.

But this didn’t lots of people (including many Tories) having a big problem with the idea. At one point the idea was even described as “broadband communism” during a BBC interview with current leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey.

But now the coronavirus pandemic is forcing governments across the world to make huge changes to the way societies work.

As a result of Covid-19, the Tories have now decided that broadband counts as an "need-to-have” public utility that should be free to those who need it.

The Press Association reports that all data allowance caps on current fixed broadband services will be lifted “in a deal struck by the government and telecommunications companies to help vulnerable people stay connected through the pandemic”.

Mobile providers including BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM will be participating.

The report reveals that the firms have also “agreed to offer generous new packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported”. People who can't pay won't be cut off anymore either.

The move was welcomed by watchdog Ofcom’s chief executive, Melanie Dawes, who said: “We recognise providers are dealing with unprecedented challenges at the moment. So we welcome them stepping up to protect vulnerable customers, at a time when keeping in touch with our friends and families has never been more important.”

Some Labour supporters are feeling a little irritated by the idea of free broadband for those who can't pay being welcomed, when the concept of broadband as an essential utility was mocked just a few weeks ago.

To be clear, though, it seems that what the Tories are introducing is different to “free broadband for all”. For now, the Tory approach seems to be more like “unlimited data for all, during this time, and free broadband for those who can't pay for it”. Once this is all over, it remains to be seen whether the caps will come back and things will return to normal.

But in these tense times, the small print is not going to stop people from having a grumble.

Whether it's going to be free for everyone or not, the sudden Tory shift towards viewing broadband as a “need-to-have” public utility is making some Labour supporters feel aggrieved. Many are screaming into the void.

This follows outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying that the government's coronavirus response proves that he was "right" about public spending at the 2019 election.

Whichever side of the political aisle you're on, we can all agree that people being connected through technology during this difficult time is vital and it's good to see measures coming in to make that easier.

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