By the London technology team
Start-up manifesto gets going
The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) published their Startup Manifesto, a list of policies they feel the UK needs to adopt so the UK can make the most from its digital hipsters. The document includes policies on tax, investment incentives and deregulation, as well as calls for additional broadband and infrastructure spending and schemes to generate cheaper office space. The Government has put a lot of faith in ‘tech city’ and the start-up economy, but calling for tax relief for the technology sector may be tricky given the recent political pressure on foreign technology companies and the corporation tax rate. Many policies featured are also already being enacted in one form or another (such as broadband spending and moving more Government services to digital by default), with Coadec merely calling for schemes to be extended or pushed further.
The document also calls for a review of regulations around the ‘sharing economy’, citing Airbnb and Uber as recent examples where innovative digital companies have fallen foul of existing rules. Reforming such regulations will be difficult, as the very nature of disruptive technology makes it hard to apply existing rules adequately, especially when established industries have powerful voices. Nevertheless, Coadec believe the ‘sharing economy’ is a mass of undeveloped potential for the UK and should be made easier. Another politically sensitive policy in the manifesto is to relax the visa regime and to reintroduce the post-study work visa. Given the political sensitivity around immigration, it is hard to imagine many Conservative politicians being enthusiastic about this, despite the clear reasoning for the policy given by Coadec.
One of the more interesting new ideas is to give extra resources to the Information Commissioner’s Office. It may sound unusual for a business group to ask for a regulator to get more money, however it feels the ICO’s pain in having to deal with more cases, and sees the benefit of a regulator that can give clear, succinct and timely judgements. This will only become more apparent as end users create more data resulting in the ICO’s case load increasing. The manifesto states “A strong and appropriately resourced data protection authority is vital both to allow it to stand up for consumers, and to provide clear advice to businesses”.
Fun and games at the IGF
The Guardian ran a great story by Maria Farrell (@mariafarrell) on the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), one of the UN organised bodies that meets up to decide how to run the internet. The article sums up the worship of ‘internet stars’ who helped set up the phenomenon, but have a lot to say about policy and does a good job of summarising the different groups who attend, plus the various levels of small talk, farce and inaction associated with every conference. The UK has a good level of representation at this year’s IGF, with Communications Minister Ed Vaizey MP in attendance with a host of industry, civil society, legal and political representatives.
Away from the silliness and futility of the event (the article discusses Vaizey’s fondness for Turkish food), there are also serious issues the conference will try to address. Farrell explains the role of the ‘nerds’, the technologists and engineers who truly understand how a packet of data gets from one part of the world and have the role of telling politicians why certain policies won’t work. Post Snowden, the IGF has gained further significance as a place where Governments can be openly tackled on their activities online. Other major themes for this year’s IGF include the US Government’s continued desire to remove itself from running the Internet, human rights and censorship online (fitting how this event is in Turkey), the role of ICANN and broadband infrastructure.
How to solve a problem like mobile broadband
Former EU trade commissioner Pacal Lamy presented a report to outgoing EU Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes calling for the Ultra High Frequency 700 MHz spectrum band to be dedicated to mobile broadband from 2020. Currently, this is reserved for terrestrial TV and is widely used by broadcasters across Europe (in the UK it’s used for Freeview). To help ease the tensions between the EU and broadcasters, Lamy believes by setting 2020 as an initial switching date, there is enough time to solve problems and disputes. This is probably wise, as broadcasters aren’t happy at all, and want to be compensated, with the European Broadcasting Union criticising the decision. This story very nicely reveals how Government has to balance the needs of all infrastructure stakeholders and highlights all the behind the scenes work that delivers the content and services we take for granted.
In a separate announcement Nokia and Intel announced a partnership to build a ‘mobile innovation centre’ to beef up mobile phone mast’s computing and storage capabilities . This will allow network operators to push popular content out to local towers, therefore closer to the end user. This results in in lower data usage and faster internet for the subscriber and less congestion for the network operator. A practical example highlighted by Nokia was if a lot of people were trying to access the same video or website, they could push it out to the towers where most people were trying to access it, alleviating pressure at the core. There is other potential here too, with localised content, more cloud services and real time marketing opportunities. EE will be the first network to have access to the research and could be an important addition to the on-going debate around net neutrality and traffic management.