Why you can't trust the UK broadband tax

Once the broadband tax arrives, don't expect it to go away again

It looks like the broadband tax, a levy on phone lines to pay for rural broadband, is going ahead.

Can we trust it? I'm not so sure. The Government's record on taxation isn't a brilliant one, and I'm worried that the phone line levy's going to hang around for a very long time.

It wouldn't be the first time. Road tax was changed in 1910 to finance the UK's road system, but these days it's just another tax - so I'm forced to shell out nearly £300 a year, or one-third of my car's value, to drive on roads so pockmarked they can make your teeth vibrate their way out of your ears.

National Insurance was introduced to insure each of us against illness and unemployment and to pay for our pensions, but it doesn't: it's just another tax. And then there's income tax.

Income tax was introduced in 1798 to fund the war against Napoleon, and as you might have noticed he's been dead for quite a while now.

Technically, income tax is still a temporary tax - the government has to renew it every year in a Finance Act - and we've got rid of it on numerous occasions, only to bring it back again when the government of the day runs out of money to pay for wars or wallpaper.

Taxed for ever?

So is the broadband tax really what the government says it is, or will the homeowners of 2525 still be paying for it the way we're still paying for the Napoleonic wars?

We suspect the latter, partly because of the way the tax has been designed. It isn't a levy on super-fast broadband connections, whose owners arguably won't miss 50p a month to help pay for rural broadband; it's a tax on landlines, levied on the suppliers, which mean every pensioner with a phone will pay it while laptop-lugging, mobile broadband-using executives won't - and if the government gets the wording wrong and concentrates only on copper, people with the fastest fibre-optic connections won't pay it either.

Surely an iPhone tax, or a router tax, or a Twitter tax, would be fairer?

We're already hearing the sound of goalposts moving: depending on what you read the tax is either to pay for 2012 (broadband for everyone), 2017 ("next generation" broadband for 90% of the population) or 2032 (another war against France, just for a laugh).

Last but not least, governments aren't in the business of abolishing taxes.

When was the last time the Chancellor of the Exchequer stood up on Budget day and announced that there were too many taxes and he was getting shot of a whole bunch of them?

That's not how governments work, and while it's all very well for the Tories to moan about this latest tax it's awfully optimistic to expect them to actually dump it if they get into power.

Ladies and gentlemen, the phone tax is coming - and once it's here, it's going to be awfully hard to get rid of it.


Liked this? Then check out Digital Britain: 7 things you need to know

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.