Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Budget: broadband tax is no more, but other plans are afoot

In yesterday's budget, the government confirmed that the 50p Landline Levy set out in the previous administration's Digital Britain report last year is no more. From Chancellor George Osborne's speech:
"...we also need investment in our digital infrastructure. But the previous Government’s landline duty is an archaic way of achieving this, hitting 30 million households who happen to have a fixed telephone line. I am happy to be able to abolish this new duty before it is even introduced. Instead, we will support private broadband investment, including to rural areas, in part with funding from the Digital Switchover under-spend within the TV Licence Fee."
And from the full budget report:
"The Government will not introduce a tax on landlines. Instead, it will drive private sector investment in superfast broadband by making regulatory changes to reduce the cost of roll-out. The Government will also fund three pilots to bring superfast broadband to hard-to-reach areas while working towards a universal broadband service at two Megabits per second. These will be funded by a portion of the Digital Switchover underspend within the TV licence fee."
Old news really (see the final paragraphs of this previous post), but some of the surrounding commentary is interesting nevertheless. This from the FT (BBC fee to pay for superfast broadband):
"...about £800m is coming from the licence fee over five years to help elderly and vulnerable people buy digital TVs or set-top boxes before the analogue broadcast signal is turned off in 2012, and not all of the money is expected to be spent. The anticipated digital switchover underspend of £350m by the end of 2012 has been earmarked by the government for two broadband projects. Some money will help finance the government’s commitment that all homes should get broadband download speeds of two megabits per second. Other digital underspend funds will be used for three pilot schemes that will look at how best to extend superfast broadband networks to rural areas. Ministers are holding out the possibility that, after 2012, a portion of the BBC licence fee could still be used to help pay for high-speed broadband infrastructure in the countryside."
And this from the BBC, picking up on ways to reduce the cost of broadband roll-out announced previously by Jeremy Hunt (see this previous post):
"Labour plans to create a rural broadband fund via the new tax were supported by the Liberal Democrats but were heavily criticised by the Tories. It was dropped from the Finance Bill as a compromise to get the rest of the legislation through before parliament was dissolved. Despite the lack of new funding, the coalition government has said it is committed to providing broadband improvements. In a speech at the beginning of June, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said that it was his goal to provide Britain with the "best superfast broadband network in Europe". To achieve this, he is considering forcing water, gas and electricity companies to open up their ducts to allow fibre to be laid inside them. Experts estimate that a large chunk of the cost of offering fibre networks is associated with the expense of digging up roads to create new ducts."
Similar coverage in the Guardian too. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), a team within BIS is the delivery vehicle for the government's next generation access (NGA) and universal service commitment (USC) objectives. Created by the previous administration, its Chief Executive is Adrian Kamellard, on secondment from Infrastructure UK which sits within the Treasury. More info on BDUK on the BIS website here.

This is the line I found of most interest on BDUK's page - "Investigate the detail of reuse of public sector networks and assets, identify the challenges and develop solutions". See this previous post for examples of where this is already happening and this post for the reasons why this is so important.

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