The silent digital debate: why politicians cant afford to overlook technology

Author

Nate Lanxon editor of Bloomberg Business Europe

June 5, 2015

The main party leaders are not doing enough to champion the digital issues that matter, says Nate Lanxon

The rise of #Milifandom and an army of memes in the election debate are a welcome diversion from the tightly controlled social media campaigns conducted by all parties. But however hilarious Ed Miliband as James Bondmight be, our current crop of political hopefuls have paid little more than lip service to digital issues set to reshape our society, business landscape and relationship with Europe.

Both the Tories and Labour have promised to roll out superfast broadband to as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time but internet technologies and the digital economy come across as an afterthought in their manifestos. This feels remarkable considering the growth of Britain’s tech sector.

This year alone, TransferWise, Farfetch and Shazam have all been valued as billion dollar companies; 1.4m people are employed by digital companies; children are learning to code across the country. These are huge breakthroughs and success stories that should be celebrated and insured, not ignored.

Instead, politicians think voters can only understand tech in its simplest terms. After all, everyone knows what buffering is because Kevin Bacon talks about it. Of course connectivity is important, but we are facing complex questions around privacy, net neutrality and security. People and businesses expect answers.

Net neutrality is one of the biggest issues facing the global digital community. It impacts every person with an internet connection on the planet. By not protecting net neutrality, service providers can charge web-based companies for a “fast lane” to users, creating speedier tiers of service for the highest payers and threatening the open principles on which the internet was built. No political party appears bullish on this issue.

Just two years ago Edward Snowden and PRISM were headline news across the world. The US government was monitoring personal internet traffic and Britain’s GCHQ was involved. This cut right to the heart of what freedom looks like in a digital society. Again, no party has taken a strong enough position to promote itself as champion of a democratic and open internet.

Why is this important compared to the NHS, Scottish Independence and Trident? It’s important because it affects us all. Last year, Ofcom showed 22.6m internet connections across the country, with 77 per cent of residents online. The digital community in the UK is surely the biggest voting block politicians can hope to win. Netflix alone often accounts for a third of all internet traffic at peak times but could be de-prioritised by operators in the face of changing net neutrality laws. Imagine the popularity of an MP who came out to save it.

From a business perspective, there has never been a better time to start or grow a digital business in the UK or Europe. But these issues will affect businesses just as much as individuals. More broadly, politics is out of step on the skills debate. A sector crying out for talent, concerns abound around kneejerk policies on immigration and the EU. Broadband is important for startups, but if you’re ARM in Cambridge supplying chip technology to every smartphone in the world, you’re more interested in knowing where the next computer science grad or R&D budget is coming from. The extent to which digital is changing society and the economy is what I will be looking at with Bloomberg Business Europe.

I would call upon each of the main parties to break their silence on the big questions in the digital debate. The politician that champions an open internet would win the favour of an engaged, knowledgeable and numerous community looking for a leader.

This article was written by Nate Lanxon editor of Bloomberg Business Europe from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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