Minister casts doubt on 'broadband' tax

A £6-a-year tax on landlines to fund Britain’s superfast broadband rollout appears to have been shelved, opening up the possibility that it might never be introduced.

Stephen Timms, the minister in charge of Digital Britain, said it was unclear whether the levy would come in before next spring’s expected general election, a Sunday paper claimed.

The Tories, who bookmakers say is the favourite to win, opposed the 50p-a-month tax from the start, and are not likely to pursue it if it has not already been implemented.

The party has said that to pay the £3billion price tag of rolling out broadband, as Lord Carter, Mr Timms' predecessor, proposed, the levy would need to last 20 years.

“If the question is, is the levy definitely going to be legislated for this side of the election, I can’t say for sure,” the minister told The Sunday Times.

His comments reverse expectations that the tax would feature in a finance bill that would follow the Budget next March, before the probable election in June.

Yet in an election year, the finance bill is often divided into two, Mr Timms added, with a short bill containing widely agreed measures before the country votes, while the rest is postponed.

“Things that are contentious will have to be left until afterwards,” explained the minister, a former minister for e-commerce and ex-analyst for the technology sector.

However, a bill for the digital economy will be laid before parliament before mid-September, which will contain measures to protect content owners from illegal file-sharing.

The government has already set a target to reduce the unlawful sharing of digital files by 70 per cent within a year, a target Mr Timms said was reasonable, the Financial Times reported.

Although a current consultation with industry will help finalise the measures, the state has hinted that offenders’ internet connection speeds will be slowed and popular websites, or types of content, blocked.

Yet government officials have been told to come up with more draconian measures, such as getting ISPs to cut off the accounts of the most persistent offenders.

The measures were at the behest of Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, following a meeting the Sunday Times reported him as having last weekend with the media and music mogul David Geffen.

 

17th August 2009

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