First comes broadband, then comes business

Canada can become a key partner in the global economy — all it has to do is change its image as an IT backwater through the promotion of broadband technologies, a government official told the Communications 2002 conference.

Speaking at the Expo Comm telecommunications trade show Tuesday,

Michael Binder, Deputy Minister of Spectrum, Information Technology & Communications for Industry Canada, said if Canadian businesses are to succeed internationally it is imperative all Canadians communities get access to broadband by 2005.

Canada must get online to change the world’s perception of us as a haven for skiers, hockey enthusiasts and Mounties, Binder said. Right now Canadian businesses are seen internationally as calm, kind and polite — good quality for a date, but not necessarily a business partner.

“”We have a branding issue,”” he said. “”We are not seen as a high-tech country.””

The government expects broadband proliferation to have a significant economic impact, increasing competitiveness of Canadian businesses and attracting new customers. That is the ultimate goal of the National Broadband Taskforce, Binder said. Industry Canada wants to focus most on the under-served northern and rural communities, but service delivery is still not materializing, he said.

“”There was a lot of promise made about delivery, but for whatever reason it didn’t materialize,”” he said.

The reason is simple: immense costs which are way beyond the means of Canada’s struggling telecommunications industry, says Gartner Inc. Canada telecommunications analyst Elroy Jopling.

“”The investment community is not prepared to give Bell Canada or Telus the money to go to regions where they cannot make money,”” he said.

And although Binder insisted consumer demand for broadband services is very high and enough to ensure profit for companies who seize the available opportunity, Jopling argued that isn’t the case when dealing with small communities.

“”Asking the carriers to go there just doesn’t make sense,”” he said.

Jopling pointed out that the only successful cases of broadband provision in rural communities have all been joint government-private sector endeavors.

“”That happened in Alberta where Bell Nexxia and the government of Alberta drove the broadband out to all the smaller communities. It happened in Saskatchewan, but again it was government dollars coming in,”” he says. “”What (the government) should realize is that to do it, the carriers are going to require someone to pay the bill.””

But although the government is committed to providing universal access for Canadians, Ottawa’s financial commitment may be far less than what providers would like to see, especially when it comes to building up the network infrastructure.

“”The private sector should build networks wherever possible,”” Binder said. “” The government is not looking to get back into telecommunications.””

There’s been an eerie silence in Ottawa about money flowing into telcos’ hands, said Jopling.

“”Part of the National Broadband Taskforce’s recommendation was that the government would kick start the process with dollars,”” he said. “”That basically stalled as the Minister of Industry Canada changed a couple of times.””

The government is aware of the difficulty in raising capital, especially for the CLECs, Binder said, and has heard the requests for changes in the foreign investment policies. They are not ready to make any decisions, though.

“”I’m for having a review of those policies. Every once in a while it’s good to review a policy and see if it’s actually accomplishing what it was meant to,”” Binder said. “” But we’re not going to get there without a full consultation with industry and ourselves.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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