Greg O’Brien’s commentary on Cartt.ca began with “This should be embarrassing. For all of us.”
He was talking about the US scooping Canada with a program aimed at getting connected computers into the homes of low income Americans with school aged children. And digital literacy training thrown in as well. The US leadership is demonstrating, um, leadership.
So Greg sent his commentary to Industry Canada and asked for comment, such as any plans for broadband for low-income families.
He shared with me what he got back:
The national Computers for Schools (CFS) program plays an important role in supporting access to technology in Canadian schools, public libraries and non-profit learning organizations. Launched in 1993, this federal government-led initiative operates in cooperation with all provinces and territories, the private and volunteer sectors to provide refurbished computers, helping Canadian students — including those from low income families — gain greater access to computer technology so that they can develop the skills needed to thrive in a knowledge-based economy. To date, CFS has refurbished and donated over 1,100,000 computers in collaboration with other federal, provincial and territorial departments and the private, non-profit organizations and volunteer sectors.
The Broadband Canada Program is providing access to telecommunications infrastructure, which is helping to create the conditions for growth and job creation. It also makes available broadband access (defined as 1.5 megabits per second) to previously unserved and underserved households at a reasonable cost to the consumer. The Program is helping to provide access to skills development and opportunities to contribute, to innovate and to succeed in the digital economy. Broadband Internet access brings important economic and social benefits: it opens the door to information, services and opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach. For unserved and underserved Canadians, particularly those in rural and remote areas, the program represents an important improvement in service.
With these investments, Industry Canada has a long history of helping Canadians access the internet and develop important digital skills.
If we are talking about a long history, it was nearly 4 years ago that I first wrote that we should be looking at making PCs and computers part of our social safety net in Canada, re-targeting subsidies based on financial need, not based on geography.
Let’s look at more recent times. Yesterday marked 18 months since the launch of the consultation for Canada’s strategy for the Digital Economy. We were asked to provide input within the 60 day consultation period and when that wrapped up, then Minister Tony Clement told us “Other countries have typically taken between 6 and 18 months to develop their strategies, so it’s reasonable to expect that Canada’s strategy will be developed in a similar time frame.”
The strategy was due sometime between a year ago and yesterday. We had an election get in the way, then a cabinet shuffle. The dog ate my homework.
That was 6 months ago.
When the Digital Strategy consultation was first announced, Minister Clement concluded with:
Canada can and should be a leader in the global digital economy. Nothing prevents us from being the best place in which to invest, grow a digital business or create digital content for the world.
Now is the time for the private sector to step up. To contribute its ideas. And then, when the digital strategy is in place, implement the game plan.
Should the private sector wait for a digital strategy to be put in place before implementing “a game plan”? For that matter, should our citizens? We need leadership. And as Greg O’Brien wrote, we need it now.