Drifting rudderless

Where is our National Digital Strategy?

Among industry observers and policy wonks, the question is seen as a running joke. How long has this been missing in action? Fifteen months ago, Michael Geist called it the government’s Penske File. Not that it is overdue by 15 months. It was already so late that we have been joking about it for that long.

It is a dark humour, because it really isn’t a joke. More like a national embarrassment.

In the meantime, the global digital economy pushes forward while Canada’s digital economic activity drifts rudderless.

To be sure, there is activity on the digital economy file, but there is no coherent strategy that sets objectives, goals or direction.

As a result, we have regulations being developed for anti-spam legislation that are among the world’s most onerous, without any assessment of the impact on the development of electronic commerce or the creation of additional red-tape. We have seen Canada’s spectrum policy lag way behind our trading partners despite traditionally being characterized as “fast-followers” of US spectrum allocations. The US completed its auction of 700 MHz 5 years ago.

Today, the FCC is hosting a Broadband Summit, “to identify and discuss best practices learned from broadband adoption programs and academic studies/surveys, and how implementation of these best practices can close the broadband adoption gap among Americans – particularly low-income households, racial and ethnic minorities, seniors, rural residents, residents of Tribal lands and people with disabilities.” As I looked at the agenda, I had difficulty thinking of which agency in Canada would convene such a session, or take action on its conclusions.

Three years ago, the FCC set goals for broadband service availability that would be easily attainable in the Canadian context (affordable availability of 100 Million connections over 100 Mbps by 2020). Its Broadband Plan [Exec Summary, pdf] also set spectrum release goals, a goal to lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation; public safety network goals; clean energy goals for real time tracking and management of energy consumption.

In Canada, we continue to fall further behind. We have had activity related to each of these lines, but without a goal in mind. Tactics do not equal strategy. Canada’s current approach is a recipe for dabbling, not leading in the digital economy.

The theme of The 2013 Canadian Telecom Summit is “Defining our place in a digital world.” We are going to look at issues including broadband wireless spectrum, next generation business models, consumers, business transformation and network evolution. We will be sure to search for ways to move forward in the absence of a national strategy.

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