Investing in Canada’s digital infrastructure

Early into the COVID-19 pandemic’s initial lockdown, Michael Sabia wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, “In this pandemic, governments will face three tests —including how best to restart the economy” [March 22, 2020]. At the time, Sabia was Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. This past Monday, he was appointed Deputy Finance Minister, making his views on restarting the economy even more important.

Once the immediate crisis begins to recede, he said governments would “need to begin thinking now about a new generation of infrastructure”. He concluded, “Given the scale of investments likely required to reignite our economy, this is an opportunity to do things faster, more effectively and more coherently to secure our future prosperity in what will likely be a changed world.”

Today, CWTA released a study conducted by Accenture Strategy & Consulting, “Investing in Canada’s Digital Infrastructure: The Economic Impact of Wireless/Wireline Broadband and the Post-COVID Recovery” [pdf, 6.1 MB].

Accenture estimates that Canada’s telecommunications industry directly contributed $74.5B in GDP impact and sustained 638,000 Canadian jobs. Accenture reports more than $10B in private sector capital investment in Canada’s wireless and wireline connectivity in 2019.

The report is an annual review of the telecommunications industry’s impact on Canada’s economy. In previous years, the CWTA-commissioned studies focused exclusively on the wireless industry; this year’s report considers the impact of the wireless as well as the wireline industries.

Connectivity is no longer a luxury but a basic necessity for Canadians to participate in the digital economy. The exponential growth in digital traffic travelling across Canada’s wireless and wireline superhighways, proliferation of connected devices, and rise in NextGen infrastructure unlocking new business models and sparking innovation in the country, shows that the telecommunications industry has become a stable and dependable cornerstone of the Canadian economy.

The report says that the telecommunications industry will play a significant role in the post-COVID economic recovery and calls on the federal government to ensure a stable regulatory environment to promote a positive private sector investment climate for expanding network infrastructure and deploying the next generation of telecommunications technologies. The report notes the importance of government initiatives to provide funding to increase connectivity in underserved areas, but reminds policy makers that private sector investment remains “a key driver of expanding connectivity into these areas.”

Last year’s report from Accenture estimated that $26B will be invested in 5G network infrastructure between 2020 and 2026, on top of spectrum acquisition and billions of dollars for further investment in 4G wireless networks as well as expansion and enhancements to wireline networks.

Governments can also play a key role by identifying and greenlighting specific projects for public investment allocation on a timely basis and further coordinating the available programs, including the Universal Broadband Fund, Canada Infrastructure Bank Growth Plan, CRTC Broadband Fund, and multiple provincial funding programs.

As Deputy Minister Sabia wrote last March, “this is an opportunity to do things faster, more effectively and more coherently to secure our future prosperity in what will likely be a changed world.”

The complete report [pdf] is available on the CWTA website.

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