Net neutrality could be ‘competitive advantage’ for Europe if 'wrong' decision made in US, says Baroness Joanna Shields

Tech City chair and digital advisor to the UK prime minster, Baroness Joanna Shields, has openly backed US president Barack Obama’s stand on net neutrality, saying it has become a “worrying” topic.

Speaking at The Financial Times' Innovate event in London this morning, Baroness Shields stated her support for Obama’s calls for rules that protect the openness of the internet, adding that the issue concerns her because it “could go in the wrong direction”.

However, she added that if the outcome is unfavourable in the US, it could provide a major competitive differentiation for Europe.

“It’s a hot topic and a worrying one, because it could go in the wrong direction…If it [net neutrality] goes the wrong way in the US this could become a competitive advantage in Europe,” she said.

Meanwhile she also spoke of Tech City's government-funded Digital Business Academy, which launched this morning in partnership with Cambridge University and UCL.

The free online platform has been designed to equip people with the right digital skills to either be able to both work for a digital company or start their own digital company, according to Baroness Shields.

Students can opt to take free courses from both Cambridge and UCL via the platform, with most courses understood to take up to six weeks to complete.

“The UK is the most digital nation in the G20, and we have the highest GDP for digital. We have an acute need for digital talent.”

She referred to recent figures which revealed the UK needs 750,000 more digitally-skilled people within the next few years if it is to maintain digital growth, stating that programmes such as the new academy will help address this skills deficit.

“The idea that you go to university to finish your education is a thing of the past. Any young graduate will be dipping in and out of new skills their whole lives to stay relevant.”

She also referred to research that has shown that students who are 18 next year will have 11 jobs by time they are in their thirties.

The UK has been recognised as a “tech powerhouse”, but did for a time have an identity crisis when it came to competing with the amount of innovation from start-ups coming out of Silicon Valley, according to Shields.

However, she praised the UK government’s open-data approach, something that will become even more important in an economy driven by the internet of things.

“With the internet of things unlocking the value of data will become even more important,” she added.

She also reinforced her stance on the importance of diversity in the workplace, adding that throughout her career “gender-balanced” and generally diverse work groups have always performed better than imbalanced ones.

Earlier this month president Barack Obama outlined his wish for tougher rules around net neutrality after ISPs had expressed that they should be granted the ability to prioritise higher-paying traffic.

He called for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a new set of rules to help protect net neutrality and ensure that neither cable companies nor phone companies can act as "gatekeepers" to the internet. The FCC has now postponed the vote on net neutrality until 2015.

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