Page last updated at 14:34 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Tories to pledge 'fastest broadband' in Europe

Fibre optic cable (file image)
All parties say broadband access is important for UK business

The Conservatives have pledged to give Britain the fastest high speed broadband network in Europe, if they win the general election.

Launching its "technology manifesto" the party says its plans will boost business and create jobs.

The Tories say they want the next generation of firms like Microsoft and Google to be created in the UK.

The party has said it will deliver broadband speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) to most homes by 2017.

Recent research suggests the majority of broadband customers currently get between 3Mbps and 4.5Mbps.

Land line tax

The government wants to ensure everyone can get at least 2Mbps by 2012.

The Conservatives say if they win power at the general election - which is widely expected to be held on 6 May - Britain "will be the first country in Europe to extend super-fast 100 mbps broadband across most of the population".

The government says it has already promised this "super-fast" broadband to 90% of the population by 2017, partly funded by a 50p-a-month tax on people with fixed land lines - which a committee of MPs has criticised but is backed by the Lib Dems.

For too long we have endured a closed shop government, which keeps information from the public
Francis Maude
Shadow Cabinet Office minister

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said the Conservatives hoped that the market will deliver most of their plan - making BT open up its network - but say they might have to use some of the BBC licence fee as well.

Other technology policies in the Conservative manifesto include a "right to data", allowing people to request government information on topics like crime statistics, schools' performance and traffic.

The Conservatives will also pledge to publish all central government and quango spending over £25,000, including contracts, on the internet.

They have also pledged to break up large IT projects into smaller components and encourage more use of "open source" software, ending the government's reliance on a handful of big suppliers.


And new IT contracts will be limited to £100m to prevent overspending on projects such as the £12bn NHS patient record system, which has been partially ditched by the government after costly delays.

Other plans include creating a small development team in government to develop cheaper IT applications and investing in renewable energy technology.

It is totally contradictory to propose building a future dependent on the internet and support plans to disconnect families as a punishment
Jim Killock, Open Rights Group

The party says its plans "represent the most ambitious technology agenda ever proposed by a British political party".

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the plans would be an important part of getting the economy moving again.

"For too long we have endured a closed shop government, which keeps information from the public, fails to stimulate innovative industries and wastes money on bloated, unnecessary and gold-plated IT projects.

"Our proposals will make the UK the most technology friendly government in the world, introducing a right to government data, extending super-fast broadband and creating a much more level playing field for SMEs [small and medium sized companies]."

Government plans

The Conservative proposals were welcomed by campaigners - but they also called for the party to be more critical of the government's controversial Digital Economy Bill, which includes plans to suspend the internet accounts of people who download music illegally.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: "These are welcome ideas, but it is totally contradictory to propose building a future dependent on the internet and support plans to disconnect families as a punishment."

The Tory plans also include publishing online the names and salaries of high earning civil servants and quango bosses and their contacts with lobbyists - and a law forcing local councils to publish all items of spending over £500.

They also want to use the internet to give the public direct input into the law-making process, using crowd-sourcing techniques to improve the quality of bills passing through Parliament.

Labour has also said it is "committed" to the use of more open source software and recently published its own plans to save save billions through greater use of social media and innovations such as an online "apps store" for civil servants.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the worldwide web, has also been working on ways of increasing public access to official government data.

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New StatesmanTories promise 100Mbps broadband in technology manifesto - 7 hrs ago Fears that Digital Economy Bill will pass without full scrutiny - 7 hrs ago
Reuters UK Jeremy Hunt unveils Tory technology platform - 8 hrs ago Conservative tech manifesto: 100Mbps broadband, small IT deals and an app store - 27 hrs ago
New Media AgeTories launch ad campaign to push digital manifesto - 29 hrs ago
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