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The government's plan to offer 270,000 free laptops and broadband connections to low-income families is "deeply muddled", according to a leading internet service provider.

Andrew Heaney, Executive Director of Strategy and Regulation at TalkTalk, said that while getting poorer families online is undoubtedly "a good thing", other public policy initiatives are working to discourage internet uptake.

He commented that the broadband tax in particular – which will impose a 50p a month fee on all homes with a landline – will make the internet "unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of other families".

So while a quarter of a million families gain free web access, over half a million others in "financially stretched" situations may be forced to give up their connections, Mr Heaney claimed.

He added: "We've always said that the phone tax is regressive and unfair and this latest announcement – for all its superficial appeal – demonstrates the inconsistency in the government's approach rather well.

"This tax is not about getting people onto broadband – it is about taxing everyone to allow the relatively well-off in rural areas to get super-fast speeds."

The negative comments come after Family Action criticised the free laptop plan earlier in the week.

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