Canada’s digital future

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that connecting everyone on the planet to the web can create opportunity and reduce poverty. It sets out a noble vision and it is an article worth reading.

Sometimes, I am left with a feeling of concern for Canada’s ability to lead in the digital economy.

It has nothing to do with our abilities to be creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, faster-to-market or any other characteristic.

It isn’t even a matter of government incentives. Indeed, if anything, my concern is that our government may sometimes be too eager to intrude.

Digital Canada 150 – Canada’s national digital strategy – is the product of three years of examination of thousands of pages of feedback following an extensive consultation process. The consultation sought input on 26 issues caught under 6 broad headings. Of the 26 pages in the pdf version of Digital Canada 150, 5 pages are the cover, printer notes, table of contents and letters from the Prime Minister and Industry Minister.

Europe released a digital scorecard looking at where it stands on targets in its digital agenda. What does Canada’s scorecard look like?

In the past week or so, the government announced it was moving forward on its Connecting Canadians program to spend nearly a third of a billion dollars to try to stimulate investment by ISPs to enable uninspiring broadband speeds to be available to rural and remote communities:

Over 99 percent of Canadian households currently have access to basic Internet with speeds of 1.5 Mbps, but newer online technologies typically require faster speeds and higher data transfer rates. Through Connecting Canadians, the government will boost speeds to 5 Mbps for up to 98 percent of Canadians.

Earlier today, Xplornet announced that it will beat those targets, offering 5 times the speed to all Canadian households:

CRTC and Industry Canada have forged a vision and an action plan to ensure all Canadians have equal access to high speed broadband. Xplornet has embraced this vision and is executing a plan to provide customers outside big cities with the most attractive Internet experience that technology can provide. Xplornet has started rolling out a new Long Term Evolution (LTE) fixed-wireless network this year and will activate two state of the art next generation satellites in 2016 with the aim of making 25 Mbps broadband service available at affordable prices to 100% of Canadian homes and businesses outside of the big urban cities.

Over the past year, I have written a number of pieces (such as “Measuring success” and “Inconsistent messages; predictable turmoil” and “Building a digital economy dashboard“) that call for the government to provide clear, measurable objectives for our digital policy agenda.

Two of the questions in the Digital Economy Strategy consultation asked by the government itself were directly related to this:

Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage

  • Should we set targets for our made-in-Canada digital strategy? And if so, what should those targets be?
  • What should the timelines be to reach these targets?

I have said it a number of times. “Set clear objectives. Align activities with the achievement of those objectives. Stop doing things that are contrary to the objectives.”

It is encouraging to see the Connecting Canadians program begin with a data gathering process. To get where you want to go, it helps to know where you are starting from.

Last week, the CRTC recognized the wide disparity in internet adoption rates based on income among Canadians:

The use of the Internet by individuals in households in the lowest income quartile continues to lag, at 62%, compared with 95% of individuals living in households in the highest income quartile.

It has been too easy for the government to focus on programs to stimulate the supply of internet. We need to examine programs that look at demand – increasing computer ownership and broadband adoption among low income households, especially in homes with school aged children.

Canada’s digital future depends on such inclusiveness and opportunity for all.

2 thoughts on “Canada’s digital future”

  1. To only be “sometimes” concerned, is to be overly optimistic. Canada is standing on the side of the highway with its thumb out, hoping for a ride.

  2. Mark: I partly agree with your advice and recommendations. I really like the idea of expanding technology access through affordable computing (and applications), but I still think there is a need for more broadband capacity and speed in rural and near urban areas (to align with more affordable housing).

    As people use the internet, particularly for education, their need for more capacity to support stream video, desktop video apps, etc., their need for more speed and throughput also increases. As they learn to depend on being connected, they also sometimes need to have alternate providers for redundancy and capacity (particularly if running a home based business).

    Mark – Keep up the good work on tracking and providing feedback to the regulators. Maybe one day they will take more of your recommendations, and hopefully sooner rather than later!

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