The broadband tax: Dead in the water?
The government has two big ideas for broadband in Britain.
First, it wants to make sure just about everyone can get a bare minimum of 2Mbps by 2012, the so-called Universal Service Commitment.
Then it wants to make sure that ultra-fast broadband reaches those parts of the country the market won't serve by using a 50p a month tax on landlines to fill in the gaps.
Now a report by a committee of MPs has effectively rubbished the whole policy, arguing that the government should keep out of next-generation broadband and worry far more about the detail of its plans for a universal service.
The report comes from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee made up of MPs from across the parties - three Conservatives, six from Labour and two Liberal Democrats.
Along with some rather bland stuff - "We welcome Ofcom's intention to produce a second report on duct access" - it comes up with some pretty damning conclusions.
On the Universal Service Commitment, the MPs say this has "a budget of £200 million, without a clear definition of what it means". And they're unhappy about the body set up to work out how to get 2Mbps to everyone by 2012, the Network Design and Procurement Group.
They say this "will define its own targets, delivery mechanisms and terms of reference. This is not acceptable".
But it's that telephone tax - 50p per month for every landline to raise billions for fast broadband - which gets a real pounding:
"We believe that a 50 pence levy placed on fixed telecommunication lines is an ill-directed charge. It will place a disproportionate cost on a majority who will not, or are unable to, reap the benefits of that charge."
The MPs believe the charge is unfair, and if the government wants to fund fast broadband, it should be done out of general taxation.
The underlying message of the report is that the need for ultra-fast broadband is not that urgent and the market will probably provide it when consumers actually want it.
One MP told me that "the only people using 100Mbps right now are online gamers and crooks downloading movies for nothing".
It certainly looks like the 50p tax is dead in the water. The government is expected to put the levy in a Finance Bill after the upcoming budget and it appears unlikely to get into law before the election.
And even if a Labour government were returned to power, it's clear from this report that some of its own MPs see the landline levy as a bad idea.
The MPs believe that getting a minimum service to everyone, while trying to get online the 10 million people who have so far ignored the internet, should be the priority, rather than fussing about some fancy high-speed fibre network.
The Business Department thinks they're wrong about that. Here's the government's line:
"Next generation broadband is vital to the UK's growth and we want everyone to access the huge social, economic and health benefits it offers. Our analysis shows that without intervention, the market will only reach up to 70% of the country so it's vital we act now to ensure no area is left behind."
So a wider debate is opening up about the costs and importance of getting faster broadband - in effect, fibre networks - to those parts of the country the market won't reach. And the MPs may discover that, in some parts of the country, their report gets a very frosty reception.
Those unlikely radicals at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) have themselves attacked the government's broadband policy - for not going far enough. The CLA says the £1bn the landline levy will raise is welcome but won't get fibre optic into every home.
The MPs on the Business Committee may find in the coming days that their inboxes are full with e-mails from angry rural broadband campaigners. But they believe that for the majority of their constituents, paying a tax to get fibre to every farm is a sure-fire vote-loser. Are they right?