Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

Tories may 'lose broadband vote'

Fibre optic cables
Tory investment in fibre technology may not begin until 2012

The Conservative policy on rural broadband could see its own voters miss out on fast services, research has shown.

Analysis from research firm Point Topic suggests some of the Tories' key rural constituencies could suffer most from its decision to hold back on subsidising rural super-fast broadband.

The Tories have vowed to scrap Labour's 50p per month tax on landlines, designed to fund rural broadband.

It favours a "wait and see" approach.

But research from Point Topic suggests that likely Conservative seats will be in the most need of public money because of their rural location.

It looked at the 253 seats with the highest needs for subsidy - those in areas where firms such as BT and Virgin Media are unlikely to offer services.

Fibre options

Based on election results from 2005 it found that the Conservatives could expect to hold 138 of them, compared to 63 for Labour.

"All the main parties agree that Britain needs superfast broadband. Where they differ is about how to deliver it to the rest of the country," said chief analyst Tim Johnson.

"With Britain struggling to emerge from recession I believe the benefits from extending and speeding the spread of superband could make it one of the government's best choices for investment," he said.

Most experts agree that next-generation broadband will be necessary to keep pace with new services that require a lot of bandwidth, such as video and the increasing demand for high definition (HD).

It is generally accepted that the best way to deliver this will be via fibre-optic cables which are expensive to lay, especially in rural areas.

The Labour government decided to tax all homes with a landline to the tune of 50p a month in order to create more funds for next-generation rural broadband for the final third of the country likely to be bypassed by commercial rollouts.

Last month the cross-party Business Innovation and Skills committee tax, branded the tax "unfair" because the majority of those paying it will gain no benefit.

The Conservative's plans for nationwide superfast broadband were detailed recently and hinge on stimulating private investment through a variety of methods including easing planning rules and opening up BT's infrastructure to competitors.

If that fails, it will use a proportion of the BBC licence fee, currently used to fund digital switchover, to finance rural super-fast broadband.

That decision will not be made until 2012.

Any Conservative administration would immediately be at odds with a new national broadband campaign - Final Third First, dedicated to getting broadband to rural areas.

Launched at the beginning of March, the Country Land and Business Association is a key member.

It has been particularly vocal in calling for action on rural broadband and its campaign is backed by leading Conservative MP Alan Duncan.



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