Where is Canada’s plan for the digital age?

NationalPost.com - Opinion
Published: Tuesday, February 02, 2010.   Marc Garneau

During and after the Second World War, Canadian politician C.D. Howe formulated a vision to transform Canada into a leading industrial power in the second half of the 20th century. He began building Canada’s nuclear and aerospace industries, as well as the critical infrastructure needed to support a successful and vibrant economy. Today, a half-century after that success, a renewed vision is required for a digital economy that Mr. Howe wouldn’t have recognized.

This is something other nations already understand. Australia, for instance, has dedicated an entire federal department to broadband, communications and the digital economy. The U.K., with its Digital Britain strategy, is developing a system of next-generation digital infrastructure: fibre connectivity, wireless, broadcasting, a commitment to 100% connectivity at 2MB/sec speeds, and a system of competition to encourage more investment in next-generation networks. The U.K. understands that the digital world will be the future, and its leaders are determined get there first.

What is Canada’s plan? Last year, Industry Minister Tony Clement hosted a digital economy forum; and while it was a good show, little of substance came of it. Where is Canada on a commitment to connectivity and universal access? Where is this government on issues of net neutrality and intellectual property?

Last month, Minister Clement defended his decision to overrule a CRTC decision concerning cell phone service provider Globalive on the basis that it would increase competition in wireless. But on the same day, he made two other decisions restricting competition in Internet service provision and limiting the market incentives to invest in digital infrastructure. First, he denied wholesale access to incumbent internet lines to new Internet service providers (ISPs); and second, he reversed a CRTC decision that would have forced matching speeds for smaller regional ISPs.

What is clear is that these decisions were made for reasons of political expediency, and to try to repair the damage caused by a previously botched spectrum-auction process, rather than as part of a coherent digital policy.

Canada must set an ambitious goal of 100% connectivity for all Canadians, including Canada’s rural and remote communities; we must create an environment of competition that accelerates investment in next-generation fibre and wireless digital networks; and we must also reform our laws to ensure the Internet remains a free and open platform for the sharing of ideas.

Technology is changing our world. While mindful of Canadian content and the cultural ties that bind our nation through radio, television and other traditional media, we must also evolve if we hope to prosper.

The digital economy will be a defining part of our economy, and will alter the essence of Canadian society. As my party moves toward our Montreal Conference in March, we will be tackling transformative issues such as this. It is what must be done to ensure Canada remains a thriving, diverse and creative nation. I encourage all Canadians to join us in defining this dialogue.

-Marc Garneau is MP for Westmount-Ville-Marie, and Liberal Critic for Industry, Science and Technology.

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