Broadband road-digging row heats up

Thus has attacked a Government scheme that makes utility firms pay to dig up the roads, claiming it will add to the cost of the rollout of high-speed Internet connections

Telecoms operator Thus has leant its voice to the growing criticism of government plans to charge utility companies for digging up the UK's roads when installing new equipment.

Thus claims that the measure, which sees companies coughing up £500 for every day they spend carrying out the work, is a threat to the rollout of broadband in Britain and have slammed it as a "hole tax".

Thus has calculated that the measure could raise its installation costs by nearly 40 percent, and the company claims that telcos would be forced to either pass this cost on to their customers in the form of higher prices, or rein back their network rollout.

The scheme is being trialled in Middlesborough and Camden in London and -- as ZDNet reported earlier this month -- there are growing concerns that adopting the plan nationwide could damage the rollout of high-speed Internet services.

"We at Thus calculate that if the regulation had been in force last year the cost of installing our equipment would have been 37 percent higher," said Bill Allan, chief executive of Thus, in a statement.

"This will increase the digital divide that is growing between those who have access to the benefits of broadband and modern IT and those who do not, and runs counter to the Government's own policy of combatting social exclusion by rolling out digital networks nationwide," Bill Allan added.

According to the government, the measure -- which it calls "lane rental" -- is an attempt to limit utility companies causing traffic delays by digging up the roads. Some politicians are unimpressed by this explanation, though.

Richard Allan, Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam told ZDNet recently that he is concerned that broadband rollout will be damaged if lane rental is implemented nationwide, as could happen next year. The MP slammed the scheme as "broadband tax", and said that the government had not done enough work on the issue.

"No proper research is being done into the actual causes of these delays. It seems that the government has come under political pressure, and the easiest thing for it to do is bring in these charges," Richard Allan told ZDNet UK News.

BT, in response to Richard Allan's comments, has pointed out that the rollout of ADSL will not be hit by these kind of charges -- which are more likely to affect the installation of individual high-speed connections to companies.

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