Paradis, the digital economy, and Tuesday's UBB decision

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Industry Minister Christian Paradis has announced an investment initiative to further the adoption and use of digital technologies by small and medium-sized businesses. $80 million will go to support information and communications technology, but this week Canadians are more focused on another digital economy issue: the CRTC's decision on usage-based billing (Internet metering) comes out tomorrow.

Widespread Internet metering could spell disaster for online applications and services, indie ISPs, and the digital economy more generally. Many (if not most) of the businesses that make up Canada's digital economy depend on the users' ability to browse the Internet without the threat of being slammed with disproportionate "overage" fees. Should the CRTC's decision prevent indie ISPs from offering customers alternatives, we'll likely see another round of what happened in December: Big Telecom companies took the opportunity to further price-gouge Canadians the moment it seemed like competition had been stifled.

Paradis' announcement today frames this Industry Minister as one who will champion the digital economy. The last person to fill the role, Tony Clement, also attempted to adopt this frame; no move demonstrated this more than his pre-election decision to send the CRTC back to the drawing board on Internet metering. It will be interesting to see how Paradis reacts to tomorrow's decision.

In all this, it's also easy to forget that Canada still lacks a Digital Economy Strategy—it's been over two years since the government promised to deliver one—and that we're also missing a plan to increase Internet penetration.

Paradis may still be settling into his role as Industry Minister, but Canadians still need a plan to advance and protect the digital future, and we need it soon. Paradis should have his eye on the CRTC tomorrow and be prepared to champion an open, affordable Internet that's free from Big Telecom price-gouging. This should also be a priority going forward. Our digital economy and our connected society depend on it.

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