Friday 5 February 2021 10:02 am

Screenshot: How Amazon set up shop on cloud nine

This week

**Media Moment of the Week: Parish the thought

**How Amazon set up shop on cloud nine

**Will BT look to the stars?

Read more: Screenshot: How Reddit shone a light on the madness of markets

Media Moment of the Week: Parish the thought

Anyone who thinks local politics is boring has clearly never attended a meeting of the Handforth Parish Council Planning and Environment Committee. Or met Jackie Weaver. 

If you’re confused, allow me to explain. This week footage emerged of a virtual meeting of the HPCPEC (keep up) before Christmas and it’s, well, quite something. Drunk on parochial power, the ageing councillors quickly descend into chaos. 

The Zoom meeting was somewhere between The Vicar of Dibley and Hot Fuzz (Youtube: ma0sm)

Cue muttered insults, squabbling over the standing orders and brutal Zoom evictions. The result is somewhere between The Vicar of Dibley and Hot Fuzz, and it’s worth the full 18 mins.

Read more: Screenshot: Is it time for a music streaming reshuffle?

How Amazon set up shop on cloud nine

They say chief executives never have control over their own departure, but then Jeff Bezos has never been a conventional boss. “We do crazy things together and then make them normal,” he gushed this week in a shock statement announcing he would step down, before saying something strange about yawning. 

There’s no doubting the incredible legacy Bezos leaves behind. Since setting up an online bookshop from his garage in 1994, he has grown Amazon into a tech behemoth worth $1.7 trillion that employs 1.3m people around the world. In the process he has almost single-handedly revolutionised the retail industry — and the online business world more widely — and made himself, until recently, the richest man in the world (pesky Musk).

So the question now is: what next? For Bezos, that’s relatively straightforward. From the third quarter he will move into an executive chair role, maintaining influence at Amazon and taking control of what the company describes as “one-way door” decisions — i.e. irreversible ones. In an email to staff this week, the tech boss said he will focus on his other ventures, including The Washington Post, his $10bn climate change fund and Blue Origin, the space exploration project he hopes will knock Musk down a peg or two. It’s the ultimate late-stage career shift of a billionaire who, tired of conquering the world, decides he wants to save it.

More interesting is what lies ahead for Amazon. The company has named Andy Jassy, head of Amazon Web Services, as Bezos’ replacement. Jassy is a long-serving Amazon lieutenant who led the company’s move into cloud computing in 2006 and knows its idiosyncrasies inside out. The tumbleweeds rolling across Amazon’s share price following the succession announcement suggest Wall Street approves of this appointment.

The major short-term challenge facing Jassy is the looming tech crackdown casting a long shadow over Silicon Valley. His first spell in charge is likely to include significant time spent fending off calls for a Big Tech break-up and artfully failing to answer questions put to him by US congressional committees. In fact, a cynic might suggest that Bezos is stepping down just in time to avoid this regulatory reckoning. Either way, analysts reckon Jassy is up to the task.

But the appointment could also signal a shift in Amazon’s strategy in the long-term. While Amazon is best known for its ecommerce platform, its major growth area is in cloud computing. Amazon Web Services — which powers platforms such as Netflix, Facebook and Airbnb — is also the major money-spinner, making up 60 per cent of its $22.9bn profit last year. While Jassy is unlikely to instigate any massive change in Amazon’s business model, his appointment places cloud computing front and centre of the tech giant’s future.

Read more: Screenshot: Is social media heading for a new era of privacy?

Will BT look to the stars?

The race to roll out full-fibre broadband has been less of a sprint than an endurance event in which the finish line keeps moving and the runners are repeatedly tripped up. Even watching it is exhausting.

The saga has been a case study in the type of overpromising that’s become all too familiar during the pandemic. Boris Johnson, in typical grandstanding form, dismissed Theresa May’s 2033 broadband goal as “laughably unambitious” and promised full-fibre to every UK home by 2025. This target, which was branded wildly unrealistic from the off, has since been quietly watered down, and the government now aims to reach 85 per cent of premises with gigabit coverage.

Of course, setting ambitious targets is no bad thing. But when it comes to actually delivering on the pledge, the government has markedly less swashbuckling. BT has committed £12bn to the rollout, but has called repeatedly — and in vain — for an overhaul of regulation and red tape to make the project viable. Last month a damning report by the spending watchdog concluded that the 2025 target will be missed and pointed the finger at a lack of “meaningful progress” by the government. As BT boss Philip Jansen put it this week, it’s been a lot of talk and not much action.

Now, it seems BT is looking further afield, holding talks with Oneweb over the potential use of satellites to deliver broadband to the most remote areas of the UK. This would be an intriguing solution. Oneweb is vying with Elon Musk’s Starlink to launch a constellation of low-orbit satellites capable of delivering internet to the entire globe, and competition is heating up.

Though untested at scale, satellite technology could be the answer to the issue of rural connectivity. What’s more, a tie-up between BT and Oneweb would be a much-needed win for the government, putting two British firms at the centre of a tech innovation and justifying its decision to bail out Oneweb last year to the tune of £400m.

The talks are in early stages, with BT understood to be exploring a number of other options. But if the government wants to reach its 2025 target — and save face — it might be time to look to the stars.

The algorithm recommends

  • It was another busy week for tech results. In addition to Amazon, Google owner Alphabet and Spotify also reported pandemic-busting revenue growth.
  • The BBC revealed it will slash more than £400m from its programme budget over the next year amid a squeeze on its income.
  • Ofcom has revoked Chinese broadcaster CGTN’s licence following an investigation into its links with Beijing.

Got a story? Drop me a line at james.warrington@cityam.com or on Twitter

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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