A technology tax

Long gone are the days when you could happily spend a couple of hours with a stack of vinyls and a C-90 tape, putting together a compilation of killer tunes for your mates or “potential” girlfriend. Even the notion of a printed TV guide now seems slightly quaint and outdated.

For a number of people, it’s all about iPods. Blogs. Downloads. Mobile transactions. Twitterings and LinkedIns. The government’s Digital Britain report, which sought to – among other things – analyse the UK’s communication infrastructure and how it can be improved, put forward a three-year plan to upgrade broadband access. The idea is that by 2012 everyone will have internet speeds of at least 2 mbhps, funded by a higher TV licence fee and an increase in charges for landline phones.

In its opening gambit, the report says that the ‘digital world is a reality in all of our lives’. In one sense, this is true – the switch from analogue to digital TV is something nobody will escape. It is only right that everybody across the country has the option to access an efficient internet service. Nevertheless, just because they can access it doesn’t mean they will. And in terms of personal use, let’s be honest and admit the internet remains for the most part a dustbin of both trivia and largely inaccurate information.

There are also plenty of businesses which have no need for a website and can quite happily market services via traditional means.

The internet is, however, of great importance to media agencies (journalists will assume the importance of the internet and digital communication because it’s a fundamental part of their job) and communication companies.

This isn’t to denigrate the internet or to ignore the fact that plenty of small businesses are missing out on commercial opportunities by avoiding the web. According to the analyst Forrester Research, online spending in the UK is set to reach £56 billion by 2014. Although web sales may slow during the recession, it’s still a growth sector – £102 million was spent on Christmas Day alone. As impressive as that may be, it’s worth noting that small businesses contribute around half of the country’s predominantly offline GDP.

In this light, the additional tax charges proposed by the government seem rather extreme and unfair for those people who have no particular need to “go digital”. And perhaps those communication giants who are so keen on going digital should be doing more to help the country modernise, rather than allowing ordinary people to foot the bill.

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