Gordon Brown's fourth Budget received a mixed reaction from the new media community. While clearly some of the initiatives were aimed at encouraging entrepreneurialism and the burgeoning e-conomy, the crucial issue of National Insurance contributions on unapproved share schemes went unresolved.
Essentially, this means that employers are left facing hugeNI payments when employees exercise their share options. Bearing in mind these are employers who have never made any profit, these payments have become an ongoing burden for dotcoms. The Chancellor says he is looking into this problem, but it may take some time and in the interim, employers have to stash away millions of pounds in order to cover the 12.2 per cent NI levy on employee's shares. QXL for example, found itself at the mercy of its generosity last year when it had to stash away £15m to cover employee shares.
The good news, though, is that small and new businesses (ie, most dotcoms) are to get a number of perks, namely a 100 per cent first-year allowance for basic start-up costs such as IT equipment, computers and software.
The changes made to capital gains tax, where the tax rate is reduced to 10 per cent after four years, will also give a significant boost to dotcoms that use shares as an added incentive for employees to stay put for a few years. And the new employee share-ownership structure, where 15 employees rather than 10 get their first £100,000 worth of shares tax-free and NI-free, will do much to attract top-level employees to fledgling dotcoms.
Overall, the budget was a big endorsement of new media as a business tool, with the Chancellor seeming to have correctly estimated the direction in which business is moving.
WAP's happening I finally got my hands on a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) phone recently, thanks to my newfound friends at IPC, and I must admit, I'm a convert.
The first thing that struck me about the Nokia 7110 is that it is the coolest-looking phone on the market, which not only will be good for take-up - once they sort out current supply problems - but will mean people are less reluctant to play for hours with WAPs (a word which a big boss of an Internet firm once told me was synonymous with breasts where he came from!).
While there's still a long way to go in terms of how content is integrated, and indeed, service reliability, the current generation of WAP phones certainly feed the imagination full of potential. The most compelling aspect of WAP technology is the 24-hour mobile access to up-to-the-minute news, which, for a news junkie like myself, is bliss.
Admittedly, some of the news does need to be thought out a little more and adapted specifically for WAP reading. Organisation is the key, particularly when a link brings up an upper-case headline that takes up all of the four-line screen, or when you want to return to the menu page and the only option given is exit. Most of the services you can get with WAP at the moment are not yet fully integrated and in desperate need of someone to think logically about what it means to have a combined Internet device and a phone in one handy package. It's tedious to be presented with a number from the phone directory service and not be able to click on it to dial the number, instead, you have to jot down the number, exit the Internet, go back to the main screen and dial the number in the normal manner. I'm assured this will change in time.
The last thing I'll say about WAP is the cost. To my horror, I found out the Internet calls are not priced at the local call rate, but this was only after I had spent more than a week constantly using the thing. All I can say is, sorry IPC.