Party manifestos published – what’s in for the digital communications sector?

Party manifestos published – what’s in for the digital communications sector?

With the General elections taking place in three weeks, the main national political parties’ manifestos have now finally been published. As you would expect some areas are not overly detailed but all include a digital agenda with targets on broadband coverage, speed and references to investment in infrastructure.

Common to all parties is the need to ensure universal accessibility to broadband, with nearly all recognising (to various degrees) the transformative role of digital connectivity. Also common to all parties is the lack of detail on funding mechanisms associated with universality targets, except for the Liberal Democrats who are planning to allocate £2billion in “innovative solutions to ensure the provision of high-speed broadband??? in rural areas. We published a report highlighting the complexity of designing and funding a broadband USO earlier this month. The next Government will need to engage carefully with the digital communications industry to ensure that a USO is cost-effective and designed in a way which doesn’t adversely affect private investment.

Fibre and 5G targets vary with the most explicit, albeit slightly confusing proposal, emerging from the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, with a promise of investment to ensure that broadband connections and services provided before 2020 are supplied with Fibre-To-The Premise as a standard technology providing a 2Gbit/s connection. The Conservatives manifesto reiterated its full-fibre and 5G commitments first announced in the Autumn Statement in November 2016, detailed in the March 2017 Budget (such as the full-fibre voucher connection scheme) and complemented by the recently published 5G Strategy. The only notable ambition is the 2027 ‘majority of population’ 5G coverage target.

Other pledges which are related to internet governance could adversely affect communication providers. The Liberal Democrats’ pledged to introduce a “Digital Bill of Rights??? which would preserve the neutrality of the internet. The Broadband Stakeholder Group contributed significantly to developing the UK’s approach to net neutrality, in the form of an industry Code of Practice on the Open Internet recently reviewed to reflect the stricter EU rules adopted in 2015. The Conservatives’ plan to introduce an industry-wide levy to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms lacks considerable detail and undermines the industry’s ongoing initiatives to protect their consumers.

Below is a grid summarising the parties’ main pledges:


Conservative Labour Liberal Democrat
Broadband Universal access By 2020, a Universal (high speed) Service Obligation (USO) to be in place By 2022, a Universal Superfast Broadband By 2022, a Superfast broadband universal connection (30Mbit/s download and 6Mbit/s upload)
Ultrafast broadband target By 2022, fibre spines in over 100 towns and 10 million premises to full fibre In 2017, NIC to report on how to rollout 300Mbit/s access within the next decade By 2020, FTTP-2Gbit/s connections as standard with SMEs prioritised
Mobile By 2022, 95% geographic mobile coverage of the UK, including all major roads and guaranteed internet access by WiFi on trains Improve 4G coverage along with free WiFi  Fast and reliable coverage in rural areas
5G By 2027, access by the majority of population Uninterrupted 5G coverage
Other Full fibre vouchers by 2018, Industry-wide levy on preventing social harm as part of wider Digital Rights package A Digital Bill of Rights that will also cover net neutrality