Monday, 18 January 2010

The New Landline Duty

Last month (December 2009), the Government, in a joint consultation by HM Treasury, HMRC and BIS, published its proposals for a new tax or duty to be imposed on local loops, as heralded in last year's Digital Britain report. The Consultation closes for comments on 12 February 2010.
The duty, to be known as the 'Landline Duty', will amount to 50p per month on each local loop made available for use (whether or not actually used) and regardless of whether it consists of a copper pair, a co-axial cable or a fibre connection. The duty is expected to raise about £175 million a year.
A local loop is defined in the draft legislation as being a physical circuit connecting a network termination point to the main distribution frame or equivalent facility in the public telephone network. In traditional parlance, this equates to an exchange line; it will not matter whether that line is being used for voice telephony, security alarm transmission, telemetering or whatever, as the duty will be payable with respect to each line.
When more than one local loop is provided in order for an end user to receive two distinct services, the duty will be payable on both lines. The only exemption so far contemplated will be for lines used to provide a social telephony service, e.g. to low income groups.
The duty will be imposed on network owners and may be recovered from end-users. Although there is an apparent ambiguity on this point in the draft legislation, which will need to be corrected, it does not seem to be intended that line owners should actually be obliged to recoup the duty from individual users and so will be at liberty not to do so; however, if they do so specifically, the additional payment of the duty will itself be subject to VAT.
The Consultation reveals that the Government did consider applying the duty to wireless networks as well, but did not pursue the idea partly because of the impracticability of applying it to pay-as-you-go mobile users. This becomes relevant to the classes of network builders able to benefit from the fund to which the duty payments are to be contributed in order to subsidise the cost of roll-out of next generation access.
The mechanism for this fund is explored in a separate BIS consultation on Proposals for a Next Generation Fund issued on 7 January 2010, discussed in my next blog.

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