It’s time we finally closed the digital gap

I want to draw your attention to an opinion piece in today’s Globe and Mail by former Industry Minister Brian Tobin: “Twenty years later, it’s time we finally closed the digital gap”.

The article reflects on him having established the mandate for the National Broadband Task Force 20 years ago.

It is a piece that resonated with me, so I decided to share some excerpts with you, hoping you will check out the full commentary in the Globe:

The 2001 task force was chaired by future governor-general David Johnston and included many of the major players in Canada’s telecom industry. Their report was the first to identify the gap between urban and rural Canada in terms of access to digital connectivity. It was also ahead of its time in identifying network connectivity as a high-leverage tool that could increase urban-rural equity in Canada by strengthening economic opportunity, improving health care and increasing access to education in rural and remote communities.

And extremely relevant to today’s policy discussions:

Which leads to the question, how do we close Canada’s digital gap not just today, but for the years ahead?

Looking back at the 2001 task force recommendations, two key principles still stand out. First, “The private sector should play a leadership role in the development and operation of broadband networks and services.” And second, “Governments should facilitate the deployment of broadband networks, services and content through policies and regulations that favour private sector investment, competition and innovation.”

The caveat is that investment at this scale requires regulatory certainty. That is why the second task force principle is also essential. To make these investments in prosperity happen, Canada needs a regulatory environment based on a commitment to long-term infrastructure planning. We also need an agenda that promotes innovation, and a competition policy that acknowledges the fundamental need for facilities-based investment.

As we can see, policies favouring private sector investment and facilities-based competition are hardly new.

Consistent for the past 20 years is a theme: Canada’s future depends on connectivity.

“Twenty years later, it’s time we finally closed the digital gap”.

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