Tory Broadband Plans Could Lose Rural Votes

A new report analysing the distribution of rural broadband subsidies has found the Tories’ “wait and see” policy could do them out of the rural vote

A report published this week by broadband analysts has found Conservative plans to provide full national broadband coverage, even in rural areas, may bring in less investment than is needed to meet demand in its own rural heartland constituencies – and may also lose tory votes.

Point Topic has estimated how much annual subsidy would be needed for each of the UK’s 650 parliamentary constituencies to support rollout of superfast broadband to at least 90 percent of all homes and businesses.

“Ironically, given Tory scepticism about subsidising ‘superband,’ the parts of the country which would benefit most are overwhelmingly in Tory hands,” said the report.

Labour subsidies would benefit Tory constituencies

Basing its estimates on the outcome of the 2005 election, it found Tory seats would attract £71 million a year in subsidy, or 51 percent of the £138 million estimated total. Labour constituencies would get only £37 million, or 27 percent of the total.

The Conservatives have already said they would scrap the Labour Party’s plans to levy a ‘broadband tax’ to raise the subsidy needed, while others have questioned whether 50p a month from each household will be enough to pay for upgrades to Britain’s broadband network.

While Labour is touting 2Mbps universal access by 2012, as advocated by Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report, the Tories least week unveiled its vision of 100Mbps to every home by 2017 as part of its Technology Manifesto.

When questioned about the apparent discrepancy between its opposition to the Labour levy and its potential to bring most benefit to the places they would like to represent after the next election, a Tory party spokesman restated its ‘wait and see’ policy to eWEEK Europe.

Tories have other plans

The Tories have said they want to wait until 2012 to see how well the market works, with more deregulation, and then provide subsidies from the BBC licence fee if necessary to fill any gaps.

They have also said they would encourage other ways to get the fibre infrastructure needed that “final third” of the way into homes and businesses more cost-effectively, by using sewers or telegraph poles, as recent trials have explored.

It is likely though, that the opposition will restate it broadband levy position to rural broadband pressure groups, including Final Third First, which is backed by one of its own Conservative MPs, Alan Duncan.

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