Tories pledge to boost broadband and e-commerce

Tories target e-commerce and the Internet in the pre-election war of words

The Tories have launched their manifesto for e-commerce and e-government in an attempt to steal a march on Labour and its highly criticised digital policies.

Among its promises, the Conservative party pledges: to look closely at BT's domination of the telephone network, with plans to give rivals "fair and equal" access to its lines; to scrap the much-hated IR35 tax, which it describes as a stealth tax on entrepreneurs; and to review the Internet snooping Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

In its document, Common Sense for E-Commerce, the Conservative party warns that Britain is "losing the lead" in the new economy as a result of "ill-judged" government policies. The Tories, it claims, will "keep government interference to a minimum".

High on its agenda will be the knotty problem of how to improve broadband coverage in the UK. The Conservatives claim the government's approach has failed and promises to review the structure of the telecoms market.

"The next Conservative government will initiate a review... to ensure a pro-market structure and fair and equal access to the network and look for other ways of reducing costs to industry and the consumer of accessing the Internet," the manifesto reads.

It is also determined to find a way to sell off broadband fixed wireless licences to get much-needed broadband coverage to rural areas.

"The auction flopped with 26 of 42 licences remaining unsold," it comments on Labour's attempts to sell off spectrum last summer. "This failure left unsold licences covering large rural areas and threatens to create rural blackspots. The next Conservative government will make allocating the licences to ensure comprehensive coverage a priority. It will also consult industry on an appropriate mechanism that does not undermine investment in the accompanying products," the document reads.

Other areas the Tories say they will tackle include the IR35 tax rule, which they pledge to repeal along with improvements to the tax regime for share options -- another thorn in the side of e-entrepreneurs.

On the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the Tories claim to be "deeply concerned" about the costs of implementing the system of surveillance black boxes that will be put into UK ISPs.

"The next Conservative government will review the operation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and ensure that it is not having an unacceptable effect on business," the paper states.

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