Friday Five: UK takes next steps in digital money plan

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. UK takes next steps in digital money plan

The Bank of England and the Treasury are to launch a formal consultation on a UK central bank digital currency. This evaluation of the design and possible benefits of a new kind of digital money is a further step towards its possible creation. The currency would sit alongside cash and bank deposits, rather than replacing them.

No decision has been taken on whether to have such a currency in the UK. But the consultation in 2022 will form part of a ‘research and exploration’ phase and will help the Bank and government develop plans. Central banks around the world are developing or exploring digital currencies after the rise of crypto-currencies.

2. Lawsuit alleges Uber wait fee ‘discriminates’

Uber discriminates against people with disabilities by charging them a “wait time” fee while entering the vehicle, according to a new lawsuit filed by the US Justice Department against the ride-hailing company. It says these extra fees have “harmed many passengers and potential passengers with disabilities throughout the country”.

The policy, which was introduced by Uber in April 2016, meant passengers would incur the fee two minutes after their Uber car arrives at their pickup location and were charged until the car begins its trip. But passengers with disabilities, such as those who use a wheelchair or a walker, often need more time to get into the car.

3. ‘Vital’ phone boxes to be saved from closure

Thousands of phone boxes in the UK will be protected from closure. Ofcom said it will stop BT from closing down 5,000 phone boxes in areas with poor mobile signals or high accident rates if they are still needed by communities. The watchdog said that without protection, some — which are considered “vital” — would’ve been closed.

For the past few years BT has been decommissioning unused payphones. Now a phone box will be saved if it is located at an accident or suicide hotspot, more than 52 calls were made in the past 12 months, its location isn’t covered by all four mobile networks or if exceptional circumstances mean there is a need for a public call box.

4. NASA confirms delay of moon landings

NASA’s administrator Bill Nelson said that the space agency’s planned moon landings will likely take place “no earlier than 2025” but warned about Washington slipping behind Beijing. China is currently building a new space station in low-Earth orbit and is also working towards a manned moon landing.

It is the first time that a delay affecting the Artemis programme — which aimed to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024 — has been officially confirmed despite numerous warnings. But Nelson said that competition with “aggressive” China made it imperative that the US continues to press on.

5. Musk sells $5bn of shares after Twitter poll

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has sold around $5bn (£3.7bn) of shares in the electric carmaker. It comes days after he asked his 63 million Twitter followers whether he should sell 10% of his stake in Tesla. The poll attracted more than 3.5 million votes, with nearly 58% voting in favour of the share sale.

Musk proposed selling his shares in order to meet his tax obligations, as he does not take a salary from Tesla. The sales equate to about 3% of his total holdings in the company, though it’s not clear whether he intends to stagger further sales. It’s all chickenfeed to him anyway, given his personal fortune is estimated to be $280bn!

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