While Westminster once more turns to the government’s Brexit deal, there have been interesting deals and dealings in technology this past week. US private equity company Thoma Bravo acquired Oxfordshire-based cybersecurity firm Sophos for £3.1 billion. This acquisition can be interpreted as both and bad news for UK businesses. The ability to create a strong company so that it attracts international investment is a good sign of UK competitiveness. But then, a weak Sterling makes UK companies a cheap acquisition target, so there are also concerns. Further takeovers are likely to make the sell-out voices louder.
There was a more muted response when US investor KKR announced its intention to spend £500m on a majority stake in Hyperoptic, one of the altnets – telco providers with the financial resources and technical capabilities to build their own fibre infrastructure. With the government’s announcement to spend £5 billion on a nation-wide full-fibre broadband, KKR’s move makes sense. The political will to overhaul the UK’s connectivity has now also officially confirmed in the Queen’s Speech, and regardless of political developments, it seems likely that both incumbents as well as altnets will see financial gains. All they now need is that the actual laying of fibre cables will become easier.
In this case, if regulation is too stringent or outdated, it can stifle innovation. But if it is too lax, it can produce potentially dangerous inequalities. This was highlighted by Bill Gates when he called for government to become more actively involved in policy-making, expecting and demanding more regulation around data privacy. In this case, more regulation is necessary to re-establish public trust in tech companies. After all, data equals power, and tech companies have a lot of data on us now that they are so engrained in our daily routines.
Similarly, Google’s announcement to launch Stadia in mid-November shows the extent to which streaming has become an integral part of our lives. Stadia gives publishers of video games the opportunity to tap into new audiences by lowering barriers of entry for them. This also comes at a time of increasing transparency around our digital carbon footprint. The technology industry is more than before scrutinised on its eco credentials. In times where many of us express our concerns and demands for a more ecological economic system, companies will earn trust by explaining what they do to, for example, cut carbon emissions – this is what Amazon with its recent net zero pledge.
Will the BBC become BBCflix? Maybe, says culture secretary Nicky Morgan. The BBC currently operates under a fixed licence fee model, and everyone who watches “live” television has to pay, even if they never watch any of the BBC channels. Streaming services such as Netflix or Now TV have subscription models charging for usage, which is considered fairer by many. With these services increasing in popularity, this also poses a risk to future BBC revenues. Initiating a debate is a positive sign that rather than combatting and ignoring societal developments, regulators are open to discussing a more contemporary approach. This is a great opportunity for industry players to make their views known to policy-makers.