Going postal with rural broadband delivery

What happens when successive Canadian governments and agencies fail to set out a coherent digital strategy? We end up with a Parliamentary Committee, The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, issued a report earlier today that called for the Government to “consider broadening the mandate of Canada Post to include delivering critical digital communications infrastructure to rural Canadians.” Let that sink in for a minute.

Canada Post could play a pivotal role in providing the basis for a Canadian social network – authentication service, email and block chain authority for the benefit of Canadians.

Some of the discussion talked about using the postal buildings as “a small-scale business centre with highspeed Internet and all the technological tools that rural businesses, residents and students need.” That may be reasonable to supplement community internet hubs in public libraries. But there were members of Parliament who called for the post office to actually be charged with building “critical digital communications infrastructure to rural Canadians” and the Committee agreed. The committee said the Post Office could also “facilitate the trust network needed to authenticate identities on the Internet” and this resulted in a recommendation calling for the federal government to examine, with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and the CRTC, “the possible delivery of broadband Internet and improved cellular service to rural Canada using Canada Post real estate to house servers and offer retail services to customers.” [Recommendation 43] Because in the eyes of these Parliamentarians, the only thing holding back universal broadband was a place to house servers and sales staff.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote “Canada’s digital future,” lamenting slow development of a national digital strategy and suggesting pretty basic ways to manage a national digital agenda: “Set clear objectives. Align activities with the achievement of those objectives. Stop doing things that are contrary to the objectives.”

Just before the election last year, I wrote “Voting for Canada’s digital future,” where, after reviewing all of the major party platforms, I observed that “they all disappoint from a digital perspective”.

Read the full report, the product of “consultations with Canadians. In addition to holding 5 meetings in Ottawa, the Committee held 22 public consultations in 21 different communities across Canada. The Committee also held electronic consultations, through which 5,000 Canadians and Canadian organizations shared their feedback.”

I am reminded of the line from The American President: “in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” In the absence of clear leadership on digital issues, you can see that Parliamentarians and Canadian citizens alike are searching for solutions. For years, successive governments have failed to enunciate a coherent strategy and as a result, we have such recommendations emerge from the Standing Committee on Operations and Estimates [OGGO] covering the kinds of issues that might have been more comfortably discussed in the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology [INDU].

Next week, the CRTC is scheduled to release its decision on its consultation on the Basic Service Obligation [TNC 2015-134]. We’ll see if it chooses to weigh in on rural broadband. Your comments, as always are welcome.

The Way Forward for Canada Post

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