A contentious home broadband tax unveiled as part of the Digital Britain report will come into force before the next election, a minister has claimed, potentially quashing hopes that a prospective future Conservative government would abandon the levy.
Released earlier this year, the government’s Digital Britain report contained a number of recommendations and funding plans intended to ensure that the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure does not fall behind the rest of the world.
Chief among these was the introduction of a 50p per month tax on all Britons with landline telephones. The tax, which is estimated to raise between £150 million and £175 million per year, would be earmarked for financing the construction of a next-generation fibre optic broadband network.
When the study was made public, the proposed charge was greeted with a mixed response. Among the criticisms that the proposal attracted was that it placed a burden on low-income families and that the money would be insufficient for the task.
More critical to its chances of becoming law, however, is the reception it received from the Conservative party,which dubbed the move ‘digital dithering’. This prompted many authorities within the broadband sector to predict that the tax would be scrapped in the increasingly likely event of the next government being formed by the Conservatives.
However, speaking at a British Computer Society (BCS) debate yesterday, Stephen Timms, Minister for Digital Britain, appeared to rule out this possibility when he claimed that the divisive tax “will be law before the next election”.
Mr Timms, who assumed charge of implementing the report from Lord Carter earlier this year, added: "We want to make high speed networks nationally available. The next-generation fund will help that and we will legislate for it this side of a general election.”
The Minister’s remarks counter comments from earlier this year when he told journalists that it was improbable that the proposal could be enforced before the next election.
Commenting on developments, Jessica McArdle, marketing manager at Top 10 Broadband, dubbed the tax “misguided” and predicted that it could force Britons to opt for services that are unsuitable.
She said: “Instead of funding new developments, this £6 tax will be another weight for fixed line operators to bear driving people towards mobile broadband and phone communications that may not suit their needs."