The digital economy debate

Bring a host of techie journalists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, MPs, lawyers, net-heads and like-able nerds together in one room and what do you get? Well, last week it appeared we got an interesting debate on the future of the Digital Economy.

We were at the The Digital Economy and Government: Challenges and Opportunities for 2011 debate hosted by TechHub and organised by Coalition for a Digital Economy (COADEC) and the mood was a positive one with the general consensus that the talent we have here in the UK will help overcome most challenges and create new opportunities in the year ahead, but it might mean a few more people standing up for what they believe.

The debate began as many predicted with the panel discussing the problems introduced by the rushed through Digital Economy Act at the end of the last parliament earlier this year as we wrote about back in March. As the Rt. Hon. David Davis MP (Conservative)– one of last night’s specialist panel – expressed “It is a very bad piece of law in some respects.

The reason is, it is an enormous bill and it was rushed through nod in two or three hours on the nod, because political parties didn’t want to offend the various producer interests who are very powerful.” At the time of voting in the House of Commons, Davis opposed the bill as did fellow MP on the panel, Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat MP) who was also fair in pointing out “There is a lot to the Digital Economy Act. It’s not just the bits that many of us hate. There are some bits there that are may alright, but there are a few clauses there that are a real problem.”

As moderator for the night, Mike Butcher (Editor of TechCrunch Europe), explained the question focusing the debate should be less the digital economy but more “the economy [as a whole] and whether it is set up for the tech-age” and how it copes or fails to cope issues surrounding the law, safety, etc and even how small new tech companies can work alongside multi-national traditional media providers.

More than six months after the Digital Economy Act had come into play we now had a room of interested parties debating the problems surrounding it. So should those parties have done more at the time. The venture capitalist on the panel Sean Seton-Rogers (General Partner, PROfounders Capital) agreed that the response was slow and quiet at the time from the tech sector to oppose the Digital Economy Act: “Yes, they were probably guilty of focusing on growing their own business at the time, but it is not just an entrepreneur issue.

Every part of the economy is now digital and we shouldn’t separate the digital economy as something different. Did we as VC’s do enough at the time? Probably not but I think next time around we won’t let it happen again.” Faced with a similar question Wendy Tan White (Founder and CMO, Moonfruit) said :”I think the truth of it is, in the way the economy has been in the last two years, most small businesses have focused on making their own businesses work and most probably wont fight back until they see in the media how it affects them.”

So what is the media’s role in explaining some of these difficult regulations and how they effect us. Tim Bradshaw (Digital Media Correspondent, Financial Times) admitted “In some ways I think we probably haven’t done enough. The problem was there was so much going on at the time of the end of that last Parliament and for many in the Tech Press it was the first time we had to get our head around the parliamentary process and maybe didn’t understand it fully ourselves.”

Fellow journalist, and probably the only panelist who seemed to have little issue with the Digital Economy Act, Milo Yiannopolous (Technology Columnist, The Telegraph) agreed but also lay blame at the feet of many in the audience before him. “I think all of the interests groups did a spectacularly bad job in representing their own positions. It is a complicated situation but our job [as the media] is to decode and disseminate and not advocate on anybody’s behalf in particular.”

The debate continued covering subjects including the future threats of cyber-terrorism “the Chinese will continue to be the world leaders in cyber warfare” David Davis and what form the biggest boost to the ‘digital economy’ could come in “encourage real business experience and working in the tech sector rather than the more lucrative financial sector” Wendy Tan White and “Our current digital infrastructure and current future plans are primitive. We have to find ways to encourage capacity” David Davis.

At the close of the debate there was a useful networking opportunity and the end of the evening saw a few more enlightened faces, a few more encouraged interested parties and an insight into the fact that some politicians do care and understand that life in the digital age is far from plain-sailng for businesses, large and small.

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Tim Fuell only joined the Webfusion team last year but having been a customer of the group for more than 10 years, he knew all about their success in the Web hosting field. After writing his Masters thesis on the threat of cybersquatting way back in 1998, he has seen the Internet grow beyond even his wildest dreams. A journalist for over 16 years and a qualified Solicitor, Tim is one of a team of bloggers in the Webfusion stable aiming to educate, inform and assist their online readership.