Canada’s rivals make gains in IT connectedness index

For the fourth straight year, the Conference Board of Canada has rated Canada second behind the U.S. in its index on the connectedness of OECD countries, but cautions its rank is slipping as other countries catch up.

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in on Canadian Connectedness: The Move to Demonstrating Value looks at 63 measures of technology connectedness, including the availability of information and communications technologies, price, reach and use, as well as broadband access, e-learning and e-government.

Canada is the leader in the price of ICTs because it has low charges for Internet access, phone connections and local and long-distance calls. This category is weighted least because it contributes to the availability and reach categories. In other words, it’s “”a means to the end,”” said Brian Guthrie, director, innovation and knowledge management at the Conference Board.

“”Price does affect how many people subscribe, how often they use it, but the real indicator is use. A lot of people are paying for service but not using it, for example.””

Countries like Finland and other European nations, boasting considerable growth in the use of wireless technologies, are encroaching on Canada’s turf as a leader in connectedness by “”making accessibility, reach and use that much more predominant for the average citizen and the average business,”” Guthrie said.

He said the U.S. has always been strong in e-business and has made slight gains this year. Canada lags the U.S. on several key e-commerce indicators, such as the number of leased lines connected to the Internet, the percentage of Internet users who buy online, the amount being spent online and total volume of e-commerce per capital, according to the index.

Part of the reason countries are peering over Canada’s shoulder in their race to be connected “”may be a hazard of sort of being a first in the field,”” said Lynda Leonard, vice-president of communications and research at ITAC in Ottawa. “”The thing about the wired world is it’s no place for complacency at all.””

The Conference Board said the key to being connected is to improve applications and content that can drive the use of ICTs. Although Canada has fared well in e-government, broadband and e-learning services, opportunities for greater connectivity can be found in the health-care system, said Guthrie.

“”There’s a fair bit of connectedness within health institutions — hospitals, within a doctor’s office, within a lab. But there’s not particularly good connections between institutions. Privacy and security of data and the ethical issues,”” rather than technological concerns, are holding back progress.

In its annual index, the Conference Board suggested government investments in health-care system applications must ensure continuity and full use of tools “”across jurisdictions, professionals and regions.””

Acknowledging the transfer of health information within Canada is difficult given numerous jurisdictions, ITAC is unveiling a virtual community to share knowledge about the deployment of ICT in health, said Leonard, adding that ICT may be used to solve key public-policy problems, not just business issues.

The index also found that a digital divide continues to be a challenge, as 72 per cent of mainly rural and remote Canadian communities, or about 25 per cent of the population, have no access to broadband. Although the government continues to tackle this issue, it has to be a team effort, Guthrie said, adding the real broadband successes are community-driven and involve soliciting contributions from local businesses or paying premiums on the price of services.

The private sector, in general, is leading the charge to get Canada more connected but there’s a limit to what it’s capable of, said Leonard. Noting past advocacy by the public and private sectors for e-commerce deployment, she explained Canada needs to keep the momentum behind public-private partnerships to advance the country’s connectedness.

Despite the Conference Board’s report on Canada’s shortcomings, Guthrie emphasized: “”We shouldn’t say that Canada’s doing poorly. I mean, we’re in the Olympics and we’re on the podium. It’s not a bad showing, although the trend is a little bit negative”” as countries like Finland, the UK, Australia and Germany close the gap.

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