£6 a year levy to fund Digital Britain

Every copper-wire phone line in the UK will face a £6 annual levy to help fund the creation of next generation broadband networks, the government said on Tuesday, as reported in the FT.

Unveiling the Digital Britain white paper, Ben Bradshaw, culture secretary, told the House of Commons: “We will only make the most of the digital revolution with the right infrastructure.”

Bradshaw reiterated the government’s pledge to deliver two megabit per second broadband to the whole UK by 2012. This will in part be delivered using wireless networks after the release of high quality spectrum.

“The economics of building what are essentially new networks mean that left to the market, true superfast broadband will only reach two thirds of homes and businesses over the next decade,” said Bradshaw.

To help fund universal broadband, the government will also make available £200 million from funds which were not used to help with the switchover to digital television. The analogue radio signal will now be switched off in 2015, replaced with DAB as the primary platform, sooner than previously expected.

It has also appointed Martha Lane Fox, the entrepreneur behind Lastminute.com and Lucky Voice karaoke bars, as its new digital inclusion champion.

Ofcom, the media regulator, will be given new powers to help tackle illegal downloading. New legislation will force broadband providers to notify their customers when they are spotting using file-sharing networks to download copyrighted content.

Internet service providers will also have to release customer data for content owners to take legal action, and take technical measures such as bandwidth reduction in the case of ‘persistent infringers’.

The BBC faces the loss of a portion of its licence fee funding to help finance local and regional news after 2013. Before 2013, further surplus from the digital switchover spend will help fund trials.

But there was no announcement on the future of Channel 4, which faces a £100 million funding shortfall by 2012. A joint venture between BBC Worldwide, the public service broadcaster’s commercial arm, and Channel 4 is the government’s preferred solution to the latter’s funding crisis and create a stronger public-service rival to the BBC.

The government has promised a further £300 million for a ‘home access scheme’ to help low income families to buy PCs and get a broadband connection.