Election 2019 -- Funding Fibre Is The Main Differentiator

In two weeks' time we will know the result of the election. We will know whether we're going to "Get Brexit Done" under Boris or whether "It's Time For Real Change" under Jeremy Corbyn. There is always the chance of a third choice of Labour being propped up with, or maybe without, Jeremy Corbyn at the helm.

The election has been declared by people within tech as not being very "techy," for want of a better word. I'm not so sure that is fair because there is actually quite a bit in there. The trouble is, you have to delve into some very large PDFs to get to any detail. To be honest, that is to be expected. The main proclamations from the parties are around Brexit, the NHS, education, defence and law and order. That is exactly what one would expect.

Indeed, I had to read through the Conservative manifesto twice to piece together a couple of techy pledges. There's a commitment to 1Gb broadband by 2025 as well as a vow to make the UK the safest place to go online, albeit without a specific reference to the new watchdog the Government was previously expected to introduce.

For its part Labour intends to nationalise part of BT, call it British Broadband, and roll out full fibre to every home by 2030. Both parties are promising to beef up cybersecurity, with Labour hinting at a new role of Minister for Cyber Security.

This is part of their section on Digital Culture Media and Sport, as per the Government department, a section which the Conservatives do not have, making it far harder to pick out their aspirations which are set out in various sections. 

In fact Labour builds on the Conservative vow to the make the internet safer by saying it will place a duty of care on internet sites to ensure harmful content is taken down. It is a far more strongly worded section that the Conservative.

However, when it comes to tackling the wealth of the tech giants, things get a little more vague for Labour which is promising a tax on the tech giants will pay for the rollout of full fibre across the country. 

This leads us on to what is still the big one for me. The Digital Services Tax is due to be introduced in April 2020. The Conservatives do not vow to keep that date, but do say they will introduce the 2% levy on the tech giants. It's an interesting one because Donald Trump has been angered by the French equivalent and has threatened any country levelling a digital tax with retaliatory tariff hikes. 

So, the Conservatives are sticking to their guns but as I mentioned, "in April 2020" or "as planned" does not appear in the wording. Perhaps some wiggle room being ever so slightly weaved in by Boris who won't want to commit to a trade row as the first part of any US trade deal talks. 

The part of the Labour manifesto the many in the press won't like is a renewed commitment to Leveson 2 which would build on the first enquiry. Like most rational, reasonable journalists I would suggest it's not necessary as wrongdoing has been uncovered and the guilty have served time in prison as the media companies have paid out fortunes in compensation.

On a more positive note, the Lib Dems have put a low figure on the speeds it wants to see rolled out but has gone stronger on rolling out digital literacy skills. Perhaps more interestingly, the Lib Dems are committed to tying AI to a set of ethical rules. They are also promising to improve the Digital Services Tax to make tech giants pay their fair share, but there's no detail on the proposal. 

To sum up the main choices, though, we have two main contenders. Boris will roll out fibre broadband through public and private investment, Corbyn will nationalise the process. Boris will charge the 2% Digital Services Tax, Labour will levy an unnamed tax on the tech giants to fund the fibre rollout. Both are committed to safer internet with Labour being stronger in their wording of placing a duty of care on sites. 

Everyone's promising to tackle the tech giants harder, including the SNP through tax avoidance measures, as well as committing to making the internet safer. So, the major difference comes down to whether fibre is rolled out through public and private investment or nationalisation. 

There are, of course, other parties standing in the election but if one accepts we're dealing with the two main parties here, we seem to have come down on one major difference -- who pays for broadband infrastructure. A nationalised arm of BT funded by a tech tax or BT funded by private and public money.

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