So Georgie Boy has decided not only not to proceed with, but to abolish ‘before it is even introduced’, the landline duty to contribute towards the financing of broadband outside high-populated urban areas.
Funny, that – the landline duty was dropped from the Finance Act prior to the election, on the grounds of the convention that controversial fiscal measures are not proceeded with immediately before an election. What was never legislated for cannot be abolished, surely? But no – Georgie wants to tell us all in the Budget what a great favour he has done by abolishing it (p. 39). So: cheers for that, George.
Not only that, but rural broadband is to be supported ‘in part from the Digital Switchover under-spend.’ Well, I thought that the coalition government’s plans were to extend the portion of the licence fee earmarked for the Digital Switchover fund beyond when it runs out in 2012. (In the meantime, up until 2012, the shortfall in this part of the licence fee is intended to finance the 2 Mbps universal service commitment.) For an ’emergency’ budget intended to set out fiscal plans for the lifetime of this parliament, it’s a bit surprising to see this extension not referred to.
However, I’m sure the coalition knows what it’s doing.
In the meantime, it’s worth recalling that rolling out high-speed broadband ‘beyond the market’ is not going to be achieved on the basis of the coalition’s current approach. Once more: merely shouting ‘ambition’ (just like shouting ‘fairness’ or ‘progressive’, or ‘we’re all in this together’) isn’t going to see it mystically materialise; and neither is it any the more likely to come true the more, or the louder, you shout it.
[Edit 23/6: And, as these slides from the Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrate, even the claim that yesterday’s Budget was ‘progressive’ is actually false. Or a bare-faced lie.]