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UPDATE Future of UK Broadband Uncertain as 2010 Election Result Hangs

Posted: 07th May, 2010 By: MarkJ
uk parliamentThis morning the country will awake to a Hung Parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party. The situation will inevitably cast fresh uncertainty over the direction that any future UK next generation broadband policy might take, with politicians wrangling behind the schemes to decide the ultimate shape of our next government.

Seats - Result at 5:50pm
LAB: 258 CON: 306 LIB: 57

As it stands at the time of writting, with less than 36 some seats still left to be declared, the "initiative" rests with Labour to have first pass at forming a coalition government; possibly with the Liberal Democrat Party. This assumes that the Conservative Party don't try to claim a minority government first or team up with the Liberal Democrats themselves.

The question becomes, what impact will this have on their respective broadband plans? Firstly we should say that all three of the major political parties are in general agreement about proposals to make broadband speeds of at least 2Mbps available to everybody in the UK by 2012 (Universal Service Commitment). Therefore we expect no change here. However their policies towards next generation broadband services (e.g. 100Mbps fibre optic broadband) tend to differ.
labour_party_uk.gifThe Labour Party
Proposes to put a 50p +vat per month tax on all fixed phone lines to develop future superfast broadband networks. They hope the levy, which should raise around £175m per year, will help next generation broadband services reach 90% of the UK by the end of 2017. However they do not define a service speed (e.g. 20Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps?).

conservative_party_uk.gifThe Conservative Party
Proposes to scrap Labour's 50p +vat phone line tax (£175m per year) and instead use part of the BBC's TV Licence fee (3.5% 'Digital Switchover' budget - £130m per year) to help fund a next generation broadband rollout. However the BBC money would only be used after 2012 and if other solutions have failed.

They would also push BT and other infrastructure providers to open their cable ducts and review the controversial Fibre Tax. The Conservative approach is to give private investment a chance. They previously promised to deliver "100Mbps broadband across most of the population" by 2017. The word "most" is not defined.


liberal_democrat_uk_political_party.gifThe Liberal Democrat Party
Broadly appears to agree with Labours position on almost all aspects of their broadband policy, albeit calling for "pensioners and the least well off" to be exempt from the 50p tax. They have in the past defined Next Generation Access as offering speeds of 40Mbps+ and also seem to agree with Labours 2017 target.
It's easy to see from this that that any coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats would result in virtually no change to their respective broadband plans. However it should be said that several reports and surveys, including one we conducted earlier this year (here), have all shown significant opposition to their 50p tax plans; instead favouring the Conservative approach.

By contrast a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, which some reports believe to be the most likely outcome (we wouldn't bank on that just yet), could throw a degree of confusion into the mix. However, given that the broadband aims of all parties are broadly similar, we would not expect the Liberal Democrats to press the Conservatives to make any radical policy changes in this area.

There is of course the separate issue of that nasty Digital Economy Act (DEA). Both Labour and the Conservatives have effectively already agreed on the DEA's current form, hence why it's now an Act and not a Bill. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats oppose internet blocking (i.e. website blocks) and have often spoken out against cutting customers off from their ISP.

Many people hope that the Liberal Democrats would strongly press home their DEA concerns to whomever they end up getting into bed with, if anybody. Indeed website blocking is still an issue that the Act has effectively left open for post-election debate. Never the less the pressure is on the LibDem's to thrash out concessions and it's currently difficult to predict an outcome.

UPDATE 1:36pm

Latest seat totals updated.

UPDATE 2:58pm

Latest seat totals updated.

Cameron and Clegg now both seeking mutual coalition with each other.

UPDATE 5:50pm

Final seat totals updated.
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