Headline hysteria - will 100,000 homes be forced to give up broadband?
Read any newspaper website, and there are sure to be several stories that make no sense whatsoever. Like a Magic Eye poster, you find yourself staring at them for several minutes before all becomes clear - it's complete bullshit. And so we cross to The Telegraph for a high profile news story that warns of a catastrophe awaiting broadband users in the UK:
Yikes! Grim times ahead for low income families using broadband, as Government taxation will mean they have no choice but to disconnect from the internet. And this won't affect just a handful of society's most vulnerable, but 100,000 homes. It's a tragedy in the making warns Charles Dunstone, chief executive of Talk Talk - one of the country's largest suppliers of home broadband. Dunstone explains more:
“As well as being unfair we estimate that the increase in price will mean that over 100,000 mostly low income homes will be forced to give up their broadband lines. This is wholly inconsistent with the Government’s plans to tackle digital exclusion by increasing uptake and use of broadband."
Goodness, it's now over 100,000 homes that will have no other option whatsoever - like switching to a cheaper broadband tariff, perhaps - other than to regress to life in the 1980s. But what is this crippling taxation Dunstone speaks of? The Telegraph explains:
Mr Dunstone estimates that around 100,000 lower income households will be forced to give up their own internet connections in able to cover the 50p per month tax that will be added to all domestic phone bills to fund the roll-out of next-generation broadband networks.
The tax, which was first proposed in the Digital Britain report, published in June, will last for around seven years, costing each household a total of £42 and raising about £1 billion for investment in high-speed fibre networks.
And there we have it. No, really - that's it. At no point does Dunstone reveal how he arrived at this figure, nor does the Telegraph seem interested in the maths. Surely some thinking would be useful in justifying the headline or the statements that follow? But no, you don't need to know anything else - just accept that over 100,000 homes that currently can afford a broadband service, won't be able to in the future.
Right. A couple of questions from us, then. Why is Dunstone arguing against the tax based on these numbers? Look at the Government statistics - 63 per cent - or 16.5 million homes - have a broadband connection in 2009; Dunstone is arguing against the tax based on barely half of one per cent of homes losing broadband. And that's based on the current numbers; in seven years time, all indications are that the number of broadband-enabled homes will be far higher, and that's ignoring the proposed benefits of the tax over that time, which includes a rollout of a minimum 2MB network to reach all UK homes.
So this argument against the tax makes no sense based on current usage. But then there's the bigger question - would low income homes really balk at the thought of investing £42 over seven years? After all, what does Dunstone think these homes are doing on the internet anyway? Are we certain they're not contributing in any way to the £3 billion a year spent on online food deliveries, and or playing any part in spending an expected £8.9 billion online this Christmas, representing a fifth of all seasonal spending? And let's consider some other facts about internet usage - that 60 per cent of internet users browse price comparison sites, a similar number research services and products before buying, 40 per cent are engaged in auctions and over a fifth are selling goods online. 26 million people - one in two adults in the UK - have made an online purchase in the last three months.
The fact is that in the majority of UK homes, the internet plays a vital role in saving money, spending money and managing money (over half of all internet users use online banking; over a third use the web to pay bills). How many homes would be willing to go without all of these benefits and services for a sake of 50 pence per month? There's a far stronger argument for the internet decreasing a low income family's expenditure by considerably more than £6 a year.
So what the blithering hell is this news story all about? If there are genuine concerns about this level of taxation, where are they? Does this story exist because a chief executive with a vested interest is pushing it for the sake of his own agenda, or is it another example of paper-thin churnalism where press releases are dressed up as news stories by reporters so squeezed for time that investigation is a luxury they can't afford? Oh, hang on - I've just read the final paragraph:
“We now need to let the private sector drive next generation broadband as far as it can. Public funding at this stage... is simply going to waste customers’ money and slow down roll-out."
And there we have it - taxation and public funding threatens the profits and expansion of companies like Talk Talk. That's a far more relevant story than the bullshit-baffles-brains presented to the reader without question.