Britain stuck in the slow lane

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What a week it has been for world-beating speed.

Usain Bolt’s antics in both the 100 and 200 metres at the World Athletics Championships have been nothing short of breathtaking.

Britain’s broadband speeds, however, do not quite fit this category.

I have long banged on about the speed of broadband in this country, and comparing us globally, it really is quite pathetic and embarrassing. South Korea, for example, boasts speeds of 100MB, while in Cornwall, many of us can only dream of 1MB.

The Digital Britain report, published earlier in the summer, was a promise for better times. And it very sensibly proposed a 50p a month levy, which would raise up to £175 million a year, to be spent on upgrading telephone lines in areas in Britain – like Cornwall – where broadband speeds were particularly un-Usain Bolt-like.

But this week, confusion has reigned over the likelihood of this proposal ever making it to legislation.

While the Digital Britain team insists that it remains committed to the 2010 deadline to impose the levy, the new minister in charge of the project, Stephen Timms, appeared rather non-committal when talking to the Sunday Times last weekend.

It would appear now, that it is unlikely to be presented to Parliament before the next General Election. And considering the Tories’ standing in the polls and their voiced opposition to the tax, the chances of it making it at all would appear to be slim.

The Conservatives’ attitude to this is all rather depressing. The levy has been dismissed as another ‘stealth tax’, the sort of narrow minded view that keeps Britain very much in the slow lane.

A 50p a month levy on phone bills is not much. And if it helps Britain’s businesses compete on a more equal footing on the world stage, surely it is worth paying. Those grumbling about forking out such a sum, are quite frankly, being selfish.

But unfortunately, as the election looms ever closer, governments and opposition are grow more sensitive to opinion than ever. And imposing taxes, however small, rarely endear.

When Usain Bolt appears in the London Olympics in three years time, he will no doubt break the world record again. Also come 2012, South Korea should be breaking broadband world record speeds – 1 gig per second!

But here in Britain, even the Digital Britain report’s pledge of a weenie 2MB for everyone by 2012 now seems to be in doubt.

Second best? Third rate more like.

ps. I had meant to upload this blog a little earlier, but my broadband went down!

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