Top 5 things you need to know about the government’s long-awaited digital economy strategy
So, what’s the good news? While there are a few positive measures in the strategy, they amount to little more than a repackaging of previous government announcements and existing government programmes. In other words, the ‘good news’ is kind of ‘old news’. And the bad news? Well, the strategy will definitely leave Canadians in the slow lane, as the plan fails to tackle Canada's national digital deficit and stark digital divide.
Many years ago, the government started work on the early stages of what would become the Digital Canada 150 strategy. At the time, countries like Japan, Germany, and Australia had already established roadmaps for affordability, connectivity, and speed thresholds through forward-looking and innovative government initiatives (for example, the plan in the U.S. here).
As a result, Canadian decision-makers were feeling the heat, and in 2010 began work on what telecom expert Michael Geist would, years later, humorously describe as Canada’s “Penske File” – or Canada’s digital economy strategy. Since then, ministers have come and gone, but we’ve seen little action.
The only strategic digital goal that emerged in Canada didn’t come from the government but from the CRTC. In 2011, the CRTC called for universal access to 5Mbps broadband by 2015. However, following today’s release of Digital Canada 150, this aspiration seems further than ever from being realized – as today’s strategy pushes back that target date to 2019.
Now, after going through 3 Ministers of Industry, 4 years of delays, and consultation data that is nearly 5 years old, the government has created one big let-down for Canadians.
So, to fill you in, here are the top 5 things you need to know about Digital Canada 150:
- They’ve delayed the roll-out of 5Mbps across Canada by four more years: The government has backtracked on a CRTC commitment to ensure every Canadian had 5 Mbps broadband access by 2015 – pushing the date back to 2019. Compare this with the E.U.’s target of 30Mbps by 2020 or the U.S.’s target of 100Mbps by 2020. Even Argentina has set a target for 10Mbps – twice Canada’s current goal – for 2015.
- Even if we hit the new 2019 speed targets, 700,000 Canadians will be left behind. Rather than promising full adoption, the government has only promised 98% coverage. This means most, but not all, Canadians will have access to 5Mbps.
- $500m isn’t anywhere near enough for Canada to start catching up with our global counterparts. The government’s announcement of $305m investment in rural broadband and $200m to help small to medium-sized businesses adopt new technologies is a welcome start - but experts agree that billions are required to ensure every Canadian has world-class, independent Internet access instead of the terrible speeds and high prices offered by Big Telecom.
- The government has not promised that this money won't simply be handed over to Big Telecom. In the strategy, there is no promise that the new investments will include an open access requirement. That means taxpayer money could simply be given to Big Telecom - which is obviously not what Canadians are looking for. Subsidizing our bloated telecom bureaucracies with taxpayer money is not the way forward.
- It reads like the digital strategy for the last 5 years - not the next 5 years. The consultation data is nearly 5 years old, it was released almost 5 years late, and, to top it all off, pushed our targets back nearly another 5 years. Decision-makers had a lot of time to get this one right, but instead of bold steps forward, we see warmed-up leftovers from previous announcements, and new measures that make it very difficult for Canada to catch up with our global counterparts.
While the government recently collected a $5.27 billion wireless spectrum windfall, it is unfortunate that there has been no substantial commitment to re-investing this money in the connected future Canadians deserve. Experts and everyday Canadians agree: this digital windfall must be invested in giving Canadians the world-class Internet they deserve.
This is especially disappointing given that Canadians have worked together to set out a clear road map forward – a road map the government has essentially ignored. Our Action Plan for a Connected Canada called for
- reinvesting money earned from the sale of public digital assets (such as wireless spectrum) back into 21st century Internet services;
- ensuring fair, cost-based access to Big Telecom’s networks so Canadians can have more affordable, independent options;
- ensuring our telecom regulator, the CRTC, has teeth, and can go after telecom giants who break the rules.
After so much time, today's announcement will come as a huge let down to any Canadian who cares about our digital future. The half-measures introduced don't amount to the comprehensive digital strategy Canada really needs. If you’re wondering what you can do, we’ve created a way for everyone to let Minister Moore know we expect much more. Let him hear your voice by speaking out at https://OpenMedia.ca/Endowment
 The term “The Penske file” originates from a now famous episode Seinfeld episode, and refers to an imaginary/nonexistent project.↩