Mark Goldberg


Telecom policy as an election issue

Will telecom policy figure in political platforms in the fall federal election? As we head into the Canada Day long weekend, there are signs that the current government should be prepared to campaign on its record on issues related to the digital economy.

When she was appointed Minister of Rural Economic Development, Bernadette Jordan’s mandate letter set out priorities, including a few related to digital economy programs:

  • Lead the development of a Canadian Rural Economic Development Strategy. This strategy should capitalize on the enormous opportunity vibrant rural economies and communities represent to strengthen the middle-class and enhance economic growth for Canada as a whole.
  • Lead work to increase high-speed broadband coverage in rural Canada. This includes the rollout of existing investments, programming towards further improvements, and ensuring that investments by the Government of Canada, provincial and territorial partners, and the private sector are co-ordinated to best prepare rural Canada for success in the digital economy.

This morning, Minister Jordan unveiled the government’s Rural Economic Development Strategy along with a new Federal Connectivity Strategy, together with a “Get Connected” portal, bringing together many of the existing resources within the Innovation, Science and Economic Development department. Stakeholders, whether service providers or individuals, can use the portal to see what kinds of broadband services are available for a given location or could determine if government support programs are available to support new investments.

Today’s announcement appears to be another signal that it is prepared to showcase its digital economy strategy in front of voters. Minister Jordan’s release follows last month’s release of the Digital Charter, the Policy Direction to the CRTC proclaimed earlier this month, and the legislative review panel’s “What We Heard” report released yesterday.

Often, the government addressing digital issues has consisted of rural broadband spending or auctioning spectrum to maximize revenue to the treasury; this government has published much more substantive policy in just the last 5 weeks.

Unfortunately, most government programs continue to focus on increasing “supply”, extending access to broadband. We need to ensure there are strategies to drive “demand”: increasing adoption rates among groups that could subscribe, but have not. That is a problem across all geographies, and is perhaps more pronounced in urban markets.

Do we fully understand that side of the challenge for universal broadband adoption?

Will other parties be able to develop a cohesive digital strategy? Are digital issues going to be a factor for the electorate?

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