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Tories mull broadband tax breaks

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BT could be forced to ensure that broadband is available to everyone in the UK as part of a beefed-up universal service obligation (USO).

It's just one of the ideas Tory MP and Shadow Minister for Trade & Industry, Michael Fabricant, is looking at to help accelerate the roll-out of broadband in the UK.

Mr Fabricant is also mulling the idea of cross subsidies and tax breaks to help bring broadband to rural areas.

Speaking to The Register, Mr Fabricant said: "We need to guarantee much faster speeds to subscribers. I am currently looking at ways we might speed up the roll-out of true broadband.

"In very remote areas, satellite and wireless networks are available, but these alternative platforms have their disadvantages and are more costly than cable.

"It may be necessary to cross-subsidise services and impose a universal supply obligation on BT. Alternatively, tax breaks might be offered as an additional incentive," he said.

At the moment there's little indication as to when the Conservatives might publish their plans for bringing broadband to rural areas. But Mr Fabricant appears sure of one thing: "I am concerned, however, that existing broadband users should not have to pay more for their service."

The idea of forcing the UK's incumbent telco to make broadband universally available is nothing new. Last year, for example, IT industry entrepreneur Bob Jones called on the telecoms regulator to make broadband universally available to all in the UK.

At the time he said: "It's time to revive the old concept of universal service - providing telephone lines to everyone - with regard to broadband.

"Cellular companies have to provide service to over 95 per cent of the population as a condition for their licences - [the regulator] should extend this requirement to BT if it wants to prevent a two-speed business Britain," said Jones.

But earlier this year, e-minister Stephen Timms effectively ruled out extending the USO to broadband saying that the matter had been "considered" before deciding that "it is not yet justified".

The Government has also rejected in the past ideas for tax breaks to help roll-out broadband. ®

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