Mark Goldberg

The Canadian Telecom Summit

Fox Group Dispatch

Potential to innovate

Canada has a ‘proven potential’ to innovate but struggles to turn it into economic might according to professor Dan Breznitz, co-director of the Innovation Policy Lab at University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In this role, he tracks how today’s economy rewards countries that carve out a unique role in the global supply of ideas, goods and services.

“Canada is primed for success, as long as we embrace the right innovation policies.” According to Breznitz, Canada has science policies, research policies and industrial policies that we call ‘innovation policies,’ but these are not truly innovation policies.

So, it’s not really surprising we are failing. We are horrible and for the last 13-15 years we have become worse and worse in terms of innovation and economic growth based on innovation.

What is disturbing about this is that at the same time, we actually became better and better in terms of proven potential to innovate and invent. We are punching way above our weight in scientific research, especially useful scientific research leading to new drugs and new technology that foreign companies and foreign economies are making a lot of money on. You’ll find a lot [of that research] was Canadian.

Innovation policies, even successful ones, take a long time to really change the landscape. So, what will come out of Canada’s innovation policy consultation? “What will actually be implemented rather than just announced?”

According to Breznitz, the policies must become institutionalized, otherwise, we’ll slide right back after the next election.

Dan Breznitz will be a featured speaker at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 5-7 in Toronto. Have you registered yet?

Regulatory consistency

Earlier this week, FCC Chair Ajit Pai spoke about the massive levels of investment required to deploy next generation 5G mobile service in his address at the Mobile World Congress:

5G could transform the wireless world. And when you add the potential of new satellite and fixed broadband technologies, as well as further innovation in 4G LTE, we stand on the cusp of exciting advances that will bring unparalleled choice and competition to consumers.

But it’s not a forgone conclusion that we will fully realize this technological potential. After all, building, maintaining, and upgrading broadband networks is expensive. And our 5G future will require a lot of infrastructure, given the “densification” of 5G networks. In my country alone, operators will have to deploy millions of small cells, and many more miles of fiber and other connections to carry all this traffic. Doing all this will command massive capital expenditures.

Chairman Pai said that such spending is best incentivized with light-touch regulation.

Today, the CRTC issued two decisions on mobile wholesale that align with this thinking. In its decision affirming the Final terms and conditions for wholesale mobile wireless roaming service tariffs, the CRTC affirmed that would not mandate wholesale services required to create an MVNO – a mobile virtual network operator – and it clarified that it would not “permit mandated wholesale roaming to be used as a means to obtain permanent access to the incumbents’ networks.” As such, the CRTC has ordered Ice Wireless to stop its MVNO, Sugar Mobile from what it calls “permanent roaming”, since that would be inconsistent with the wholesale wireless regulatory framework that was established in 2015.

In an interview with the press, I wouldn’t pick winners and losers from these CRTC decisions. Instead, I said that maintaining such regulatory consistency is an important incentive for encouraging carriers to continue to invest billions of dollars in digital infrastructure.

The inclusive internet

This morning, the Economist Intelligence Unit released a report on The Inclusive Internet, an index ranking 75 countries according to performance in four categories: Availability, Affordability, Relevance and Readiness.

The study was commissioned by Facebook’s A report accompanying the index is said to offer “guidance for policy makers on boosting internet inclusion in their countries. These include encouraging investment in fixed infrastructure, providing teacher training in digital skills, and involving men in discussions around female internet use to tackle negative cultural attitudes.”

Perhaps most surprising was that Canada ranked number one in the world for Affordability, an indicator that examines the cost of access relative to income and the level of competition in the Internet marketplace. “Price measures the cost of Internet access relative to income. Competitive environment measures the concentration of the marketplace for Internet service provision.”

Canada was tied for 8th place in the overall rankings, held back by a very low (34th place) ranking in the Readiness category, which examines the capacity to access the Internet, including skills, cultural acceptance, and supporting policy. Despite high digital literacy scores, Readiness also includes factors of “Trust and Safety” and “Policy.” Canada’s Policy score, measuring “the existence of national strategies that promote the safe and widespread use of the Internet,” was ranked 55th.

Key findings from the study include:

  • There is more to inclusion than internet availability
  • Middle-income countries outperform rich ones in some areas of inclusion
  • Local content is abundant in non-English-speaking countries. Only one native English-speaking country (the US) ranks in the top ten in local content
  • Taiwan, Spain and the UK lead the world in ensuring that women can connect to the internet. Singapore and five other developed countries—Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden follow closely behind

The full 40-page report is available [pdf, 650KB], and there is an interactive website and downloadable dataset [XLSM, 3MB].

For Canadian policy makers, there are very important lessons to be derived from this report, including the lack of local content and the embarrassing 55th place ranking for our failure to develop a meaningful national broadband strategy. The report also challenges oft-repeated statements about competitiveness and the level of concentration in Canada’s mobile and internet sectors.

We’ll examine these issues and more at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 5-7 in Toronto.

An innovative transformation

Innovation. Noun. A new idea, method, process. Synonyms: change · alteration · revolution · upheaval · transformation · metamorphosis · breakthrough · new measures · new methods · modernization · novelty · newness · creativity · originality · ingenuity · inspiration · inventiveness · a shake up

Dictionaries may be able to define the term, but that doesn’t easily translate into concrete action plans for a government to lead an economic transformation.

Innovation has been a focus for the Government of Canada’s policy agenda, triggering a consultation that was distilled into a report [or pdf version, 2.4MB].

At its most basic, innovation is about making things better in ways that benefit everyone. Innovation isn’t always based on technology. Any idea can be transformed into a simple solution that results in new products or services. Innovations can create entirely new jobs, markets and industries that never existed before. And they can give existing industries a new lease on life by making them more productive and efficient.

Leading up to a Federal budget that is expected to emphasize innovation, David Akin has written a couple articles in the past week looking at what we can expect to see:

These articles refer to three important source papers that are worthwhile reviewing:

Earlier this week, University of Toronto News profiled Professor Dan Breznitz, one of the world’s leading authorities on innovation.

How do we transform Canada’s economy to be more innovative? This will be a core theme at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 5-7 in Toronto.

Have you registered yet?

Canada’s innovation scorecard

What gets measured gets done.

A few years ago, in a post called “Building a digital economy dashboard,” I cited a Peter Drucker principle: “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Scorecards or operating dashboards are basic, yet important management tools.

The Canadian Government is focused on an innovation agenda, as I noted last month in “Building an innovation economy.” Massive levels of expenditures, frequently called “investments” in the government press releases, are being made in schools and businesses across the country.

How do we measure the effectiveness of this spending? The CRTC’s Basic Service Objective decision describes some of these measurements: what percentage of the population has access to high speed broadband connections? How many have access to an unlimited data plan?

The CRTC’s regulatory policy opened with the statement “This decision sets out the actions the Commission is taking to help meet the needs of Canadians so that they can participate in the digital economy and society.” But what was notably missing was any action to increase basic adoption among vulnerable low-income Canadians, or low-income households with school children.

the Government of Canada is currently examining these affordability issues in the context of its Innovation Agenda. As the Government of Canada has stated, everyone has a role to play. In the Innovation Agenda, ISED indicated that Canada must do more to give rural communities and low-income Canadians affordable high-speed Internet access services so that they can participate fully in the digital and global economy for a better quality of life. As stated in the Commission’s submission to the Innovation Agenda, the Commission supports concerted efforts from a variety of stakeholders as essential to making progress in this area and encourages other stakeholders to follow suit.

The issue of broadband adoption by low-income Canadians figures more prominently in the CRTC’s submission to the Government of Canada’s Innovation Agenda consultation in the form of a letter dated December 21 from the CRTC Chair to ISED Minister Bains. The day before that letter was released, the CRTC gave approval to Bell’s acquisition of MTS broadcast distribution undertakings. Two months later, ISED granted approval to the Bell, MTS transaction. As I noted last week, the CRTC and ISED missed the opportunity to have a low-income broadband solution developed for Bell and MTS territories.

Recall that during the hearing that led to the Basic Service Objective determination, CRTC Chair JP Blais interrupted the proceeding and said “Every day that goes by without a more robust Canadian broadband strategy means a Canadian who is socially and economically vulnerable continues to be profoundly disadvantaged.”

What gets measured gets done. Having a broadband strategy simply isn’t enough; we’re long overdue for setting an objective for universal adoption by low-income households with school-aged children. It isn’t enough for broadband to be available; every household with kids needs to be online.

My “Building an innovation economy” post referred to the Global Competitiveness Index from the World Economic Forum (WEF) [pdf, 12.2MB], where Canada’s ranking dropped in the past year from 13th to 15th place. An objective might be to improve Canada’s standing in certain international indices, but that should be a result of achieving independent objectives.

How should Canadians measure our innovation agenda? How do we define and measure success? How do we know that we are heading in the right direction?

The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit [June 5-7, Toronto] will look at “Competition, Investment and Innovation: Driving Canada’s Digital Future.” Early Bird savings for conference registrations are in effect until the end of February. Register now to save.

[Update: February 22, 2017] ICTC has announced an initiative to develop a national measure for digital innovation. In the next couple of months, ICTC will be producing white papers and consulting on the specific parameters that go into building this national digital innovation indicator, guided by four key factors: Innovative Climate Index, Innovative Capacity Index; Innovation Outcomes/impact Index; Innovation Confidence Index.