London Labour conference calls for public, free broadband

London Labour Party conference passed this motion from the Communication Workers’ Union. Below is the speech for the motion given by the CWU’s Maria Exall.

Particularly given the Labour right took control of the London Labour board, it will take a fight for this and other left-wing demands to be acknowledged, yet alone campaigned for.

CLP section 150 for the motion, 5 against, 6 abstentions
Affiliates section 51 for, 0 against, 1 abstention

This Regional Conference notes the necessity of broadband services during the COVID pandemic. The ‘digital divide’ has meant that many working class children in London have been denied equal access to necessary IT services and equipment which has affected their learning and their opportunities to connect with others during lockdowns. We also note that many poorer and more vulnerable adults in London are also denied the services they need to access everything from Government services and benefits to online shopping.

We call on the GLA and Local Authorities to support widening access for London children and adults to telecoms services and IT. We believe that Labour Local Government should invest in services that can help tackle the digital divide, aid community cohesion and help overcome inequalities.

We recognise that telecommunication is an essential service for citizens in London and welcome the 2019 Labour Manifesto commitment to public ownership and democratic control of broadband infrastructure. We aspire to a capital City which provides free broadband for all.


Maria Exall’s speech

The CWU has long raised the problem of a growing digital divide. Here in London this divide restricts local economic development and makes worse existing social inequalities. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the urgent need for universal access to broadband services. But the UK is on course to miss its latest target for the roll-out of full-fibre broadband by 2025.

Only a publicly funded, owned and accountable service will get the job done and boost other public services and the wider economy. Public investment and ownership is necessary as after nearly 40 years privatisation has failed to deliver services worthy of a leading capital City. In the end it is public ownership and democratic control that can improve the quality of services in our region and within our local communities as we build back from the pandemic.

But the current remit for telecoms regulation is a competitive market model that leads to downward pressure on pay and conditions for us as workers in the industry and mega profits for the leading companies in the sector, BT, VM, Sky.

The major telecoms firms divvy up the spoils for their shareholders rather than invest and develop the services that we as local residents need. They use outsourcing and casualised labour with all that implies. They cut costs which means site closures in London, with permanent skilled jobs exported to other parts of the UK and abroad. At present we in the CWU are fighting to keep highly skilled BT jobs in London. It is wrong that one day you are a key worker the next you are made redundant.

Conference, it could all be so different.

We could be freeing up the real potential of new technologies to tackle class inequality, prioritising improving access for those isolated and vulnerable and bring our communities closer together; to build a new collectivity for the 21st century.

We could have job security and quality training for the next generation of telecoms workers in London.

We could be using technologies to deal with local environmental concerns. Digital inclusion is necessary for a just future.

During the pandemic Labour Councils have done their best to facilitate the provision of both computer hardware and connectivity to the internet to assist school children and young people with remote learning. But much more fundamental change is needed.

Everyone is entitled to high speed access and IT equipment that allows them to work and learn from home, connect with others in their communities and access vital local services.

It is the right time to restate the Labour Party’s pledge for publicly owned free full-fibre broadband.

Please support our motion.

Telecoms is an essential service and it should be a public utility run for the common good.

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