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Chancellor Alistair Darling has used his Budget to elaborate on – and seemingly revise - the government's new broadband plan.

Earlier this week, Gordon Brown unveiled a new vision for truly universal high-speed broadband access, following the Conservative's pledge to provide widespread 100Mb services by 2017.

However, Mr Darling sprung something of a surprise by watering down the Prime Minister's promise of 100 per cent access around the UK.

He stated that public funding would help provide 90 per cent of the population with next-generation broadband access by 2017, representing a small but significant retreat for the government.

More predictably, the Chancellor confirmed that the controversial 50p-per-month landline levy will be introduced to fund investment in the national broadband network.

He announced the government's commitment to the tax, despite vociferous criticisms from the Conservative Party and a cross-bench group of MPs.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Darling said the UK has the potential to be "a digital world leader" if it firmly commits to providing next-generation access.

"Realising this ambition would create thousands of new businesses and hundreds of thousands of new jobs," he stated.

The Chancellor added that investment in high-speed broadband will also "open the way" for public services to be delivered more effectively and at a lower cost.

"We have taken the decision to ensure the benefits are spread to rural as well as urban areas and are not limited to the better off," he stated.

"The 50p monthly landline duty will unlock private investment and enable 90 per cent of the country to access the next generation of super-fast broadband by 2017."

Unsurprisingly, confirmation of the levy has led to further criticisms from the private sector, with Andrew Heaney, Executive Director of Strategy and Regulation at TalkTalk, describing the tax as an "unfair, regressive, and wasteful way of funding super-fast broadband".

He claimed that the measure will deliver "less benefit than it will cost", lead to the slow rollout of high-speed broadband services and ultimately cause up to 200,000 households to give up their connections altogether.

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