Analysis: Deep down, the party's tech manifesto is truly conservative
The newly launched Conservative Technology Manifesto sets out pledges to transform technology in the UK - heralding the advent of superfast broadband and an end to bloated government IT contracts.
It was introduced by the party last week with the aim of ensuring that the "next generation of Googles or Microsofts will be British".
Yet while the manifesto's ambitions are laudable - building a tech infrastructure to add billions to Britain's GDP - the document itself falls way short of guaranteeing such ambition will one day be turned into reality.
The manifesto's goal - "we will lay the foundation for a British technology revolution" - is underpinned by a pledge that the UK will get its own 100Mbps broadband network which the Tories say will generate 600,000 additional jobs and add £18bn to Britain's GDP.
However, while proclaiming the benefits of the superfast network, the manifesto itself seems content to skate over the economic and technological realities of building such infrastructure.
The network certainly won't come cheap - the party has costed it at £29bn - with the private sector largely left to foot the bill.
While the Tories have pledged some degree of subsidy - £120m annually to be drawn from the BBC licence fee - it seems a somewhat optimistic figure, given the ISPs' reluctance to take fibre beyond 50 per cent of the population without public sector aid, without which the communications companies claim superfast broadband won't reach rural areas, where the return on investment of laying fibre optic cable is likely to be a long time coming, if indeed it ever does.
It's a figure that seems particularly hopeful when you take into account that the £120m will only be available as a loan or on a matched-funding basis, and only then from 2012, coming as it does from funds set aside for the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting.
And for all of the manifesto's talk about transforming technology in the UK, the implementation plan for superfast broadband remains less radical than that of the current government.
Labour's proposed 50p tax on landlines to fund the rollout of superfast broadband is expected to both raise more money - about £170m each year - and be able to provide subsidies at an earlier date. The tax is due to pass into law as part of the Finance Bill this spring.
The Tory proposals are also seeking to encourage telcos to lay fibre networks by forcing BT to open up its underground ducts and pipes to competitors.
However, the proposals seem unlikely to provide the incentive needed to fund a rollout of fibre in more remote areas.
According to Tim Johnson, chief analyst at Point Topic, the savings that telcos would make from being able to use BT's ducts would not make up for the lack of income available in sparsely populated locations.
"The costs are going to remain in low density areas whatever you do.
"Companies are not suddenly going to rush to use these ducts in these areas - you need to find some subsidy," he told silicon.com.
While the manifesto's plans to stimulate the creation of a nationwide superfast broadband are at best naïve, its claims around the network's speed are simply confused.
The manifesto states...