It was probably inevitable, but if BT wasn't prepared to spend money upgrading the broadband infrastructure for those who live in far-flung locations, it would be the British public who would have to pick up the tab. In its Digital Britain report, the government announced today that every fixed phone line in the UK would be liable for a tax. The money generated by this 'levy' will help pay for broadband in outlying regions -- it's expected that everyone will have access to broadband by 2012.
The tax, which will apparently amount to around £6 per year (50p per month) per line, is intended to enable every home in the country to access broadband Internet services at a minimum speed of 2Mbps. This is great news for people who are stuck using dial-up and have no hope of BT ever providing them with ADSL services.
There doesn't seem to be much comment at the moment on why a figure of 2Mbps was chosen. It's claimed that this is enough bandwidth to provide live TV over. We'd very much dispute that, and we'd suggest that the broadband network of 'right now' needs to be significantly quicker. After all, what's the point of spending massive sums of public money to provide a service that's outdated now, let alone how far behind it will be by 2012?
It's impossible not to be a little cross about yet another tax being levied on the British public. If the government really thinks that a Britain on broadband is essential to the economy, why isn't industry paying for it? Why, particularly, is BT not responsible for providing this infrastructure? After all, it was basically given a licence to print money when it was privatised in the 80s and handed the keys to a massive telecom monopoly.
What's more, if taxation is paying for the infrastructure, what happens to the money generated from selling broadband to the people who couldn't previously access those services? Will that money be returned to people who paid the new phone line tax, or will it simply bolster the profits of whichever company ends up providing the service?
There is a separate plan that should help Britain develop so called 'next-generation' networks aimed at bringing much higher-speed Internet access. This plan, however, is totally separate and is likely to be more reliant on telecom companies voluntarily investing money and resources. Whatever happens, Digital Britain is likely to remain a technological third-world compared to parts of Europe and most of Asia.