Labour has accused the government of “betraying” the UK by failing to provide basic broadband access to all during its five years in office.
Speaking to V3, MP and shadow Cabinet Office minister Chi Onwurah (pictured) said that government efforts to rollout broadband had stifled competition, and caused many people to be left behind, socially and economically.
“The Conservatives and Lib Dems have betrayed Britain on broadband. Their subsidies have gone to one player [BT] and this has effectively closed off the competitive telecoms market we left in 2010,” she said.
“The biggest betrayal is around digital inclusion and rural broadband. We committed to basic broadband for everybody by 2012. Now we are in 2015 and there is still a large part of the country that hasn’t got basic broadband.
“That is an economic betrayal. We see frustration from people like farmers and others in rural areas that they can’t be part of the digital [economy]. They can’t use one of the biggest enabling technologies of our age.”
Trumpeting her own party’s stance on broadband, Onwurah reiterated Labour’s manifesto which promises “affordable, high-speed broadband by the end of the parliament”.
V3 asked Onwurah how Labour classified “high-speed” services. She did not provide a specific figure, but said that a “double digit” offering was most likely, potentially between 20Mbps and 30Mbps, which is how the EU classes high-speed broadband.
The Conservatives have said they would ensure that 95 percent of the country could access superfast broadband services during the next parliament if re-elected, saying they would use satellite services to achieve this in hard to reach areas.
Onwurah also criticised the government for failing to introduce any adequate strategy regarding digital inclusion, noting that it was only in 2014, four years after coming to power, that any strategy to address this was forthcoming.
“Its targets for digital inclusion are just 90 percent. So the 10 percent being left abandoned would be the poorest and most vulnerable – the people forced to sign-on online,” she said.
Onwurah also said that a Labour government would do more to promote the teaching of digital skills, using the report from TV presenter Maggie Philbin to help lead its work in this area.
“[Her report] came out with a number of important recommendations about how to encourage the next generation to have the digital skills that we as a country need,” she said.
Meanwhile, on the issue of cyber security Onwurah said that she felt the government had not done enough to protect the nation by failing to include SMEs in its cyber security strategy.
“The government doesn’t recognise the importance of cyber security. They think it is only for the government and big business. It took them a long time to begin working with industry for a standard on cyber security but I thought it was lacking in understanding,” she said.
“Government and big business have small businesses in their supply chain so it was an opportunity to improve and increase cyber security in small businesses too.”
The Labour manifesto touches on this by saying that every company working with the Ministry of Defence, regardless of size or scale, would have to sign up to a cyber security charter.