Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Broadband levy to be dumped?

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Today’s Guardian is reporting that Stephen Timms, effectively the minister for Digital Britain, is to abandon plans for the 50p/month levy on phone lines designed to assist with the roll-out of fast broadband connections beyond where the market would provide.

The report describes ministers as cavilling over the levy partly due to electoral considerations and partly as a result of parliamentary conventions requiring opposition support for measures in a pre-election budget, which would be required since the levy is a fiscal measure. On the grounds that opposition support is not forthcoming, the levy would not make it into a pre-election budget and may, therefore, not be implemented at all.

Stories on Timms’s appointment suggested that his role would be to push through the levy – apparently, these were either incorrect or Timms has quickly abandoned the notion. The levy was always controversial, with some criticising its regressive nature and its ‘impractical politics’ (see further down this blog), although Connect supported it on the basis of the wider policy aims it would help to achieve.

The levy, suggested in the final Digital Britain report, was thought of as essential if Britain was not to be further divided between those with fast broadband connections, i.e. those in large, urban areas where competition would be likely to deliver a multitude of connection offers, and those without, i.e. those in areas where delivering high-speed connections was, for the want of a better word, ‘uneconomic’.

If the levy is indeed to be abandoned, and this may either be just one of those kite-flying stories that appear from time to time, or else the product of the need to fill newspaper pages in a very slow August, then Timms needs to say what will replace it. The public policy goal behind the levy – seeking to deliver high-speed broadband on a cohesive, nations-wide basis for all which does not disadvantage on the basis of choice of locality – remains absolutely spot-on.

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Written by Calvin

18/08/2009 at 10:43 am

Posted in Communications policy

Tagged with ,

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