Alistair Darling’s budget will be announced tomorrow and much of the focus will be on the UK’s ‘Digital Britain’ spending.
Above all, what our eyebrowed Darling will announce will also, obviously, have huge ramifications for the general election – which although not announced is probably, definitely going to be May 6th.
So what are the broadband providers and experts hoping to see tomorrow and how do the broadband promises of the three main contenders measure up?
“The promises are pretty much the same,” said Sebastien Lahtinen, co-founder of thinkbroadband.com told TechEye. “The differences is that the Liberal Democrats are keen to spend money now for rolling out next generation broadband for all areas. They know the money needs to be spent. The Conservatives would generally prefer that the market dealt with this and they supported anything beyond that, where it was necessary. And the Labour government is in the middle.
“The problem is that the parties are all talking about different things.” Lahtinen continued. “The Labour party has been saying that 90 percent of the UK population should be getting next generation broadband by 2017, the Conservatives have said 100 megabits [should be available] to the majority [of the UK], so that’s over 51 percent. And the Liberal Democrats have said 40 megabits or faster to the ‘vast majority’.
“So they’re all using different metrics so it’s actually very difficult to say which party has the best policy.
However Lahtinen told TechEye that actually the pace of the broadband providers might outstrip the election promises anyway. “One thing I would say is that by the end of this year I believe that Virgin Media will have 100 megabits to about half of the UK anyway.”
Small businesses too have criticised the major parties saying that SMEs should be offered tax breaks and more help from this and any future government. Jonathan Elliott, managing director, Make It Cheaper said: “UK Small business owners are extremely disillusioned with this or any future Government. Rhetoric from all political parties is failing to hide the lack of sufficient help available to these businesses, the life blood of the British economy, to reduce their cost base.”
BT today also came under fire for charging another rural customer a hefty bill for internet access. This time, Mr Simpkin, a rural farmhouse owner in Somerset has said BT handed him an estimate of £56,000 to get him kitted up with broadband so he could file his VAT returns online. BT says that this is not true and that the real cost given to the jewelry maker was more like £47,000.
Mr Simkin commented to the BBC: “What I find particularly galling is that I understand if it were not for my shared line I would no be connected to the internet just like the two neighbouring farms, which are within 400 yards of my house… I believe it is grossly unfair of BT to ignore people in rural areas so that they can maximise their profits in cities and well populated areas.”
ThinkBroadband’s Lahtinen was willing to hazard that Darling will be announcing a 50p levy on phone lines tomorrow to fund the outreach of next generation broadband to rural areas. A group often referred to as the ‘final third’ of the country who are currently unable to receive high speed broadband. He estimates that “over seven years they’re going raise about a billion pounds” from the Levy for connecting people like Mr Simkin.