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Labour manifesto: ‘High speed’ broadband for all plus strengthened surveillance

Labour has promised that every property in the UK will be able to get high speed broadband if it wins the general election. 

An Ed Miliband-helmed government will work with telecoms regulator Ofcom and the UK’s leading ISPs and networks to deliver faster fixed-line broadband and mobile services to all, even if they’re living in remote and hard to access corners of the country. 

The plans follow earlier announcements made by the Digital Labour pressure group, which has called for gigabit broadband for all homes and 10Gbps connections for business hubs. 

Unfortunately all the manifesto says at the moment is that everyone would get ‘high speed’ broadband, without clarifying what that means. In the 86-page manifesto, the word ‘Internet’ is mentioned three times. ‘Broadband’ is mentioned only once. 

The manifesto says: “Labour will ensure that all parts of the country benefit from affordable, high speed broadband by the end of the Parliament. We will work with the industry 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.”  

Reading between the lines, this could mean finishing off the work started by the BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) initiative, started by the current Coalition government. 

BDUK 2.0 or 1Gbps for all?

BDUK, coupled with the commercial network expansion from BT, Virgin Media, KCOM and others, means that 75 per cent of UK premises (as of December 2014) are able to order superfast broadband. Ofcom defines ‘superfast’ as any service delivering 30Mbps or higher.

BT, which has won the contract fotr every local BDUK project, defines ‘superfast’ as anything that’s 25Mbps or faster. There’s no technical definition for ‘high speed’ broadband – it could be 10Mbps, 100Mbps or 1Gbps. 

It’s also unclear if Labour plans to simply finish off what BDUK has started or if it aims to go higher. 

Whatever their intentions in this department are, Labour also plans to bridge the IT literacy gap. A Point Topic report from last year stated that roughly 7 million UK adults had never used the Internet, meaning accessing services like Universal Credit online is impossible for some

Labour says: “We will support community-based campaigns to reduce the proportion of citizens unable to use the Internet and help those who need it to get the skills to make the most of digital technology.” 

Elsewhere, Labour mentions plans to reform the approach to monitoring online activity, but again is vague on the details. 

TEMPORA No more? Not likely

The manifesto states: “We will need to update our investigative laws to keep up with changing technology, strengthening both the powers available, and the safeguards that protect people’s privacy. 

“We will strengthen the oversight of our intelligence agencies to make sure the public can continue to have confidence in the vital work that they do to keep us safe.”

It’s unclear from the manifesto if Labour intends to scale back the operations of GCHQ, the UK’s signals intelligence unit or pull out of the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ programme – an information sharing initiative between the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

Related: GCHQ’s sharing of NSA’s PRISM data was unlawful – but not any moreThere’s no mention of ID cards in the manifesto, an unpopular initiative championed by former Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith, but there is a mention of a return of Control Orders. 

Control Orders, which prevented people from leaving the country or meeting with others at certain times of day, were scrapped in 2011 and replaced with TPIMs (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures). Gradually travel restrictions were reintroduced with TPIMs in an attempt to prevent British citizens from leaving to fight in Syria. 

Labour’s manifesto says that it intends to combat Islamist radicalisation by engaging with young people and isolated communities. 

“To defeat the threats of Islamist terrorism, we must also engage with the personal, cultural and wider factors that turn young people to extremism. 

“The Prevent programme was set up under the last Labour Government to stop young people becoming radicalised. But this Government has cut the funding and narrowed its focus. Much of the work to engage Muslim communities has been lost.”

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