It was a long time in the making, and it wasn’t worth the wait.
That’s the general sentiment expressed by several critics of Minister of Industry James Moore’s Digital Canada 150 plan. The Conservative government first promised a national strategy when Tony Clement filled the top role at Industry Canada several years ago. Today’s announcement from Waterloo, Ont.-based OpenText was supposed to deliver on that promise, but many industry observers say it didn’t go far enough to meet expectations. While the announcement did cover a wide swath of policy issues and revisited passed legislation and funding commitments related to the digital economy, it was lacking in terms of an overall strategy and falls short of what other G8 countries have accomplished, critics say.
For OpenMedia.ca, an open Internet advocacy group that encourages citizen engagement in digital policy issues, much of Moore’s announcement was old news.
“We get reheated, warmed up left overs from the last five years,” says David Christopher, communications manager at OpenMedia.ca. “It just amounts to a repackaging of stuff the government has already announced.”
In his Toronto Star column, Michael Geist notes some successes of the announcement, such as demonstrated government interest in digital issues and plans to enact more legislation on the topic. But he also notes what is missing from Moore’s plan.
“For a strategy document, it is curiously lacking in actual strategy,” he writes. “Measurable targets and objectives typically guide strategy documents, yet there are not many to be found in Digital Canada 150.”
One of the main planks of the government plan committed to connecting Canadians, namely through a $305 million investment to help extend the availability of 5 Mbps broadband Internet to rural areas, reaching 280,000 Canadian households. That will mean 98 per cent of Canadians are able to subscribe to broadband Internet service, according to the government.
Bill Hutchison, chairman of I-Canada, an arm of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) that encourages municipalities to become intelligent cities, said the policy has “some good initial steps to make Canada competitive.” But, he added, “we’re still not moving as fast as some leading nations.”
While it’s good Ottawa wants to ensure rural areas get broadband of 5 Mpbs urban Canadian homes have access to an average of 50 Mbps. Meanwhile leading nations have carriers offering 1 Gbps.
It is true that urban download speeds have been increasing in the past two years, he said, but they’re growing faster in many other countries. Failure to set an urban speed target is “almost as if they’re too afraid to tackle the cities because the big guys (carriers) are there.”
The two per cent left out of the broadband strategy equates to more than half a million Canadians, OpenMedia.ca’s Christopher says. Canada should be looking to examples of international counterparts like Australia, which is aiming to provide access to 25 Mbps speed connections by 2016. When upload speeds are considered, Canada’s situation is even worse off – it ranks behind Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
“It is positive they’re trying to roll out broadband but it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough to tackle the problem,” he says.
In his column, Geist is also critical of the 5 Mbps goal. It’s “slower than many comparable targets around the world and comes years later than the Canadian Radio-televion and Telecommunications Commission’s stated goal for the same level of Internet connectivity.”
Both Geist and Christopher pointed out that Industry Canada just raised $5.27 billion from the 700 Mhz spectrum auction, yet there was no mention of investing that money into digital initiatives.
Written with notes from Candice So and Howard Solomon.