WESTMINSTER politicians were criticised last night for dropping the “telephone tax” without putting anything in place to ensure funding to speed up the spread of superfast broadband in rural areas.
The UK Government was forced to cave in on the 50p-per-month landline levy after the Conservatives warned Treasury negotiators they would block the rest of the Finance Bill.
The “telephone tax” was designed to pay for making broadband more accessible in remote parts of the UK, including the Highlands and islands.
One north MP said he was dismayed that the “wash-up” process – designed to rush agreed measures through parliament before the election – had resulted in the provision being abandoned.
Instead, funding for better broadband services will come from money siphoned off from the BBC licence fee, which may not be available for up to three years.
Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said: “The roll-out of superfast broadband is vital to the future economy of the UK, especially to much of the Highlands and islands where the market will fail to provide a service.”
He said the levy was not perfect but did recognise the need for action.
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Liberal Democrat MP Sir Robert Smith said: “This will damage the rural economy leaving local businesses, schools and people who want to work from home at a huge disadvantage.”
Inverness Chamber of Commerce president Jean Ramsay Smith said: “We have to keep up the pressure to make sure rural areas get superfast broadband.”
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce warned that lack of adequate broadband connectivity was “a barrier to future business growth”.
Tory Jeremy Hunt said the spread of superfast should be left to commercial companies, with funding available through the BBC licence fee if necessary.