Digital Britain: £6 Levy For Faster Broadband

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Final report also includes plans for Ofcom to police file-sharing and universal broadband service

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The government has introduced a 50p-a-month tax on phone lines, to create a Next Generation Fund to pay for faster broadband across Britain. Other measures in today’s Digital Britain report include controversial measures on Internet piracy, and expected moves such as funding a basic universal broadband service from licence fee money.

The Next Generation Fund will be administered by telecoms regulator Ofcom, and is expected to gather between £150 million to £175 million each year, from a “small levy” of around 50p a month on each copper phone line, according to culture secretary Ben Bradshaw, who took the post from Andy Burnham in Gordon Brown’s recent reshuffle of government posts.

On the BBC’s PM programme, Lord Carter, the author of the report, clarified that people on low incomes who qualify for “social tariffs” for their phone lines, would not have to pay the levy.

Through the Fund, urban users will be subsidising rural users, who would otherwise not be covered by network upgrades to fibre-optics. BT is carrying out a £1.5 billion upgrade of its network which will take fibre to street-side cabinets – but only to 40 percent of its network.

ISPs and others are already criticising the report’s commitment to force ISPs to reduce illegal file-sharing by 70 percent within a year – although this promise is based on measures that are not yet agreed, so presumably means one year from the moment they come into force.

The report proposes that Ofcom should have the responsibility to force a reduction in illegal filesharing, by demanding that ISPs act against their users. ISPs will have to monitor likely offenders’ file-sharing activities, write letters asking them to stop, and then curb their activity, by blocking them from certain sites and throttling their bandwidth. If that fails within a “reasonable but also reasonably brisk period”, repeat offenders will be subject to “a court-based process of identity release and civil action”, the report says.

These proposals are subject to a consultation period, and ISPs are already objecting to proposals which it says would require them to do the rights-holders’job. Orange issued a statement saying it “would not agree to funding this process ourselves. Whilst we will assist rights holders in taking direct legal action against those accused of copyright infringement, we do not believe that Orange and the vast majority of our law-abiding customers should be required to subsidise rights-holders’ actions.”

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