Tory MP: make unemployed build Britain's fibre network

David Davis says Britain's 2.4 million unemployed could be put to work building a fibre network

18 May 2011

Conservative MP David Davis has called for the Government to use unemployed workers to build a nationwide fibre broadband network.

Writing in The Times, Davis admits the Government cannot afford to spend £25 billion on a nationwide fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network, and says the sum is "more than the ponderous, monopolistic companies in this sector are willing to risk".

However, Davis claims that the biggest cost of installing a fibre network is the physical labour of building the infrastructure - a task he claims could be undertaken by the unemployed.

Building a superfast rural broadband network is largely low-skill - digging trenches, laying pipes, filling them in

"Building a superfast rural broadband network is largely low-skill - digging trenches, laying pipes, filling them in," Davis writes. "Only a small fraction of the cost is high-tech materials."

"Why not use use the 2.4 million people who are either jobless or on welfare to build this infrastructure?"

The former Shadow Deputy Prime Minister claims that the Government's current plans to encourage investment in a fibre network are insufficient.

"At the moment, the Government intends to direct about £530 million from the BBC licence fee to enable BT to invest £5 billion in laying cable to about 60% of the population, mainly in urban areas," he writes.

"This is not enough. There is already a digital divide between rural and urban Britain. There is a real risk that superfast broadband will be an exclusively urban luxury and that rural households and businesses will be left farther behind."

BT backlash

BT said Britain had "one of the best broadband availability figures in the world" and said Davis had got his facts wrong. "The article is wrong in saying that the Government is to direct £530 million to BT to enable it to lay cable to 60% of the population," BT said in a statement.

"BT is investing £2.5 billion of its own money to bring super-fast broadband to two-thirds of UK homes and businesses by 2015. The public funding, which will only be available through a competitive tender process, will specifically address only the final third of the UK."

BT also took exception to Davis's jibe about BT's unwillingness to invest in nationwide fibre. "As for suggestions in the piece that broadband rollout is being handled by ponderous or monopolistic entities – BT is now passing 80,000 homes with fibre every week, and this is among the fastest fibre rollouts anywhere in the world."

Davis's comments come a day after analysts claimed that BT's fibre broadband rollout was suffering delays.

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