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Volume 448: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what the reasons are for the delay in publication of the Broadband Stakeholders Group's independent rates review, and if he will make a statement; (81833)

(2) when he expects the Broadband Stakeholders Group to publish the final report on the independent rates review, and if he will make a statement.

In November 2003, the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) established terms of reference for reviewing the regime for property taxes in respect of cable/duct infrastructure. These were:

To review the effects of the business rating system on the providers of communication apparatus and their possible affect on competition within the communications industry.

To consider whether or not the assessment methodology is having a detrimental effect on the roll out of broadband, with special emphasis on the provision of broadband in rural areas and to isolated communities.

To consider the methods of assessment as between leased and owned fibre and any possible double payment as between fibre lessees and the owners of the ducts in which the fibre is carried and any material differences between business rates payable on owned or leased fibre.

To determine the scope of the works for Phase II of the project, subject to budget approval.

The BSG published an interim status report in late 2004. While the interim report proposed options for a way forward, the working group driving the report felt that there were insufficient hard data (as opposed to anecdotal material) to draw firm conclusions at that stage. It was planned that the review could be concluded by March 31 2005, three months on from the interim report.

However, the review could not be taken forward from that point as, at the start of 2005, the European Commission launched a state aids investigation, which directly involved two BSG members. A decision on this case is expected imminently, at which point the review can progress as planned.