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LONDON (Reuters) - Investing in a high-speed Internet network would open up a new global trade route for Britain, boosting economic recovery and creating thousands of jobs, the opposition Conservative party said on Thursday.
The party, ahead in the polls weeks before a general election, plans to stimulate 29 billion pounds ($43.27 billion) of private investment in the broadband network by opening up access to infrastructure currently dominated by BT and providing loans to encourage firms to improve high-speed broadband in rural areas.
"For Britain the Internet presents an opportunity that it doesn't present for any other country in Europe," said Conservative culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt. "We are one of the best countries in the world at the creation of digital content ... the Internet effectively opens up a new global trade route."
He added: "If we want to be a hub for the digital and creative industries ... we have to say don't bet against the need for higher speeds on the Internet because there will be lots and lots of applications that demand that."
The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) estimates that extending broadband with a speed of 100 megabits per second across Britain, up to 33 times faster than the current average speed, would generate 600,000 new jobs in four years and add 18 billion pounds to the country's Gross Domestic Product.
A NESTA report said experience in Japan and South Korea showed superfast broadband drives innovation, creates strong demand for online goods and services and boosts the growth of digital content providers such as online games developers.
"This is completely central to our plans for the growth of the UK economy, and we think it presents a massive opportunity for how we can get out of the hole we are in now," Hunt said, speaking at the launch of the party's technology manifesto.
The Conservatives plan to continue a levy on the television license fee, currently being used to fund a switchover to digital television, to pay for improvements to Internet access in rural areas, including through subsidised loans for firms providing infrastructure.
The government has proposed a tax on fixed telephone lines to fund improvements to broadband speeds in areas with poor access.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan