Prior to yesterday’s scary admission that there is no strategy to deal with ISIS, US President Obama’s foreign policy was said to be guided by a policy of “Don’t do stupid stuff“, the phrase having been cleaned up for prime-time viewing.
Increasingly, it appears that Canada needs a digital conscience in Ottawa to teach the Obama doctrine: stop doing stupid stuff.
Threatening to introduce legislation to ban charges for paper bills is another in a growing list of actions that are at cross purposes with achieving policy objectives.
According to the Digital Canada 150 strategy,
Digital Canada 150 represents a comprehensive approach to ensuring Canada can take full advantage of the opportunities of the digital age. It envisions a country of connected citizens armed with the skills they need to succeed.
The Government plays a key role in ensuring that consumers are protected and action is taken to end price discrimination. We have introduced measures to protect Canadians and their families while encouraging healthy competition and lower consumer prices.
By Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, our vision is for a thriving digital Canada, underscored by five key pillars: connecting Canadians, protecting Canadians, economic opportunities, digital government and Canadian content.
As I wrote Thursday, in 2006, a Directive was sent to the CRTC [Order Issuing a Direction to the CRTC on Implementing the Canadian Telecommunications Policy Objectives]. At that time, Canada’s cabinet called for the CRTC to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible as the means of achieving the telecommunications policy objectives, and when relying on regulation, use measures that are efficient and proportionate to their purpose and that interfere with the operation of competitive market forces to the minimum extent necessary to meet the policy objectives.”
Yesterday, the broadcasting and telecom vice-chairs of the CRTC convened a closed door meeting of telephone and cable company executives, representing Bell, Bragg Communications (Eastlink), Cogeco, Globalive (WIND Mobile), MTS Allstream, Rogers, Sasktel, Shaw, TELUS and Videotron. The agenda for the meeting called for discussion on “a clear and predictable approach to fees for paper bills”, examination of “Specific Circumstances: disability / income level / seniors / others”, but the agenda did not say that the CRTC sought elimination of the charges altogether.
So it is not clear why the CRTC chair was disappointed at the outcome: “While the companies agreed to adopt consistent exemptions to such fees, they were unable to reach a consensus to eliminate them entirely.”
The Industry Minister was quick to announce action:
Canadians should ask “why?”
The companies already agreed to provide exemptions for Canadians with disabilities, customers who don’t have broadband, seniors and veterans. At least half of low income Canadians are already captured in those exemptions because the government has yet to deal with embarrassingly low adoption of computers and broadband for that segment.
So what is the problem we are trying to fix?
Why would we discourage incentives for Canadians to adopt digital billing? Why would we disadvantage Canadian companies that will spend millions of dollars sending bills? Why would we introduce legislation that will raise the cost of doing business – costs that are certain to cost Canadians.
I wrote yesterday about “Roadblocks for an innovation economy.” Legislation to mandate no-charge paper bills in a competitive environment is yet another one of those roadblocks.
How many roadblocks would be removed if we could get the government’s digital strategy simplified to mirror Obama’s doctrine?