A brilliant idea, Mr Timms

Another day, another completely unbalanced idea.  At a London conference organised by the British Computer Society today, the ‘Minister for Digital Britain’ Stephen Timms MP declared that a fifty pence per month surcharge on everyone with a fixed line telephone “would be law before the next election”.

For years the debate about availability of high speed broadband has raged, with BT refusing to enable exchanges where there was insufficient demand.  This of course is a circular argument – without demand we couldn’t have broadband, but without broadband how could demand grow?  Finally, when local exchanges were enabled, the bandwidth from many providers was lamentably low and contention ratios made access so slow and unreliable as to render it almost useless.

Why is it that other countries – notably in the Far East – can get this right and we can’t?  Reliable fifty megabyte bandwidth is commonplace in many countries, and the provision of access to the information superhighway is seen is essential to economic growth, skills and employment.  Yet still there is a mindset in Britain that although the potential profits are mindblowing, the long-suffering consumer must foot the bill for infrastructure – infrastructure which for the most part is obsolete before it’s actually completed.

And let’s not kid ourselves about this divisive broad stealth tax.  More and more people these days rely on mobile phones as their communication of choice, so they won’t be contributing anything.  Similarly a whole other section of society who are subject to this ‘contribution’ will have absolutely no use for high speed broadband, and many others won’t be able to afford the laptops or desktops machines which will use it anyway.

The surcharge is intended to raise up to £175m a year to fund this explosion of networks.  But I recall a quote for expanding broadband in Kent – just one county – back in 2002 which ran out at £58m.  That’s just a small part of the country, and the quote is now seven years out of date.  BT have themselves declared that to provide fast ‘Fibre To The Cabinet’ broadband nationwide would cost in the region of £5,000,000,000 – that’s over twenty eight years’ worth of subsidy, by which time the rollout would be in a total shambles.

Other than all those points, it’s a brilliant idea, Mr Timms…


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