David Prosser: The country's online tax on city dwellers

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The Independent Online

Outlook So the Government is to press ahead with its plans for a broadband tax, despite the unwritten rule that ministers avoid controversial measures in Finance Bills published close to an election.

Still, the interesting question is why the Tories are opposed to the tax. After all, this is effectively a subsidy from urban areas, where most people live and where the roll-out of faster broadband is most economically viable, to rural constituencies, where a minority of people don't currently have access to any broadband at all, and where the telecoms companies are unlikely to install super-fast networks of their own accord. Who tends to represent those rural constituencies? By and large, it is the Conservatives.

The Tories' opposition to a 50p-a-month levy on landlines doesn't seem to be based on disappointment at the lack of ambition displayed in the Government's proposals, though the Commission for Rural Communities says that a target of 2 megabits per second broadband falls short of what the countryside needs. John Whittingdale, the Tory MP who chairs the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said yesterday that the gripe was simply that this is "another tax".

Well, true enough, but Britain's super-fast broadband network will not build itself, and we can't force the private sector to provide services they can't justify on commercial grounds. If we accept the argument that rural communities should not be left behind as the next generation of internet connections is rolled out – and it's worth remembering that there are plenty of rural businesses contributing to the national economy, so we're not just talking about domestic use – the taxpayer will have to pay in one way or another.

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