Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Budget 2010: Darling puts emphasis on broadband for all

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Darling on landline tax during Budget statement

Chancellor Alistair Darling reiterated the government's commitment to making Britain a digital world leader, with plans for a major broadband roll out.

He announced super-fast broadband for 90% of homes by 2017, funded by a £6 annual tax on landline phones.

The Conservatives have vowed to scrap the tax if they win the next election.

Fast net services will create "hundreds of thousands" of new jobs while putting services online will lower the cost of public spending, the chancellor said.

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He also promised more tax breaks for the UK's computer games industry.

"The UK has the potential to be a digital world leader. It needs high-speed broadband for rural areas as well as urban, it must not be limited to the well-off," the chancellor said in his budget speech.

The broadband tax has proved controversial. The proposal is to charge people with fixed lines 50p a month to help fund super-fast broadband, although it is not clear if those who use cable services will be included.

It has been branded unfair by an all-party group of MPs who say that most people who pay it won't reap the benefits.

It is aimed at the so-called final third of the country that is unlikely to be included in commercial plans to roll out expensive fibre optic services.

Some experts were surprised that the chancellor did not reiterate Gordon Brown's commitment to bring super-fast broadband to 100% of the UK by 2020.

"We are disappointed that the budget has simply repeated the government's previous target of 90% coverage by 2017," said Sebastien Lahtinen, co-founder of broadband site ThinkBroadband.

Election issue

In a speech made earlier this week, Mr Brown signalled how seriously the government is talking its digital commitments when he described high-speed web access as "the electricity of the digital age".

Broadband is increasingly becoming a hot election issue with some key differences between the parties.

The Conservatives believe that government intervention to ensure super-fast broadband reaches the whole country is not yet necessary.

It favours leaving the roll out of such services to the industry, although it would consider government assistance in 2012, when funds are freed up by the digital switchover.

The broadband tax is one of the measures in the government's Digital Economy Bill.

The bill has attracted controversy and some of those opposed will gather in front of parliament on Wednesday evening to protest against government plans to allow web blocking and to cut illegal file-sharers off from the net.



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