Columns

Liberal MP Navdeep Bains (Mississauga--Brampton South) chats with Young Liberals of Canada Vice President Communications-elect Braeden Caley and youth delegates by Michael Ignatieff (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/6jzCBK

Why Federal Leadership on Universal Broadband is a Need, Not a Want

With one week still remaining in the federal telecommunications regulator’s hearing focused on the state of Internet access in Canada, the process has taken a surprising turn that ultimately cries out for leadership from Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.

Jean-Pierre Blair, chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), opened the hearing two weeks ago with a warning: even if an ideal speed target could be identified, there was no guarantee of regulatory action. Blais urged participants not to confuse “wants” with “needs”, a framing that suggested the goal of the hearing was to identify the bare minimum Internet service required by Canadians.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the remarks attracted immediate headlines that the Commission would not guarantee basic Internet speeds. The CRTC insists that only comments on the public record count, but it is obvious that the commissioners pay close attention to media commentary and social media postings.

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April 25, 2016 2 comments Columns
Braille by Roland DG Mid Europe Italia (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/8wYdZy

Canadian Copyright Bill for the Blind in Need of Fine Tuning

As the political world was focused on the Liberal government’s inaugural budget last month, Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, introduced his first bill as minister by quietly moving ahead with plans to reform Canadian copyright law to allow for the ratification of an international treaty devoted to increasing access to copyrighted works for the blind.

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty expands access for the blind by facilitating the creation and export of works in accessible formats to the more than 300 million blind and visually impaired people around the world. Moreover, the treaty restricts the use of digital locks that can impede access, by permitting the removal of technological restrictions on electronic books for the benefit of the blind and visually impaired.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Canadian decision to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty is long overdue. The Conservatives announced plans to do so in last year’s budget but waited to table legislation days before the summer break and the election call. With that bill now dead, the Liberals have rightly moved quickly to revive the issue.

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April 19, 2016 2 comments Columns
The CRTC listened intently to the CFRO presentation by Robin Puga (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/8XhHm1

Why Universal, Affordable Internet Access is a Job for Everyone

The future of Internet access in Canada takes centre stage this week at a major hearing focused on whether it’s time to update the rules associated with universal access to communications services. Canada has long had regulations in place that ensure that basic telephone service is available to everyone, using a funding model that subsidizes higher costs in rural communities.

My weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that for most Canadians, however, basic telephone service no longer adequately addresses their needs. Today the Internet is widely recognized as the most indispensable communications tool, providing access to everything from electronic messaging to entertainment. While debates over broadband access have lingered for more than 15 years, there are still thousands of Canadians without service, owing to the lack of access or affordability.

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April 12, 2016 2 comments Columns
Ontario Music Fund Oversight Hits Sour Note: Gov Docs Discuss “Breach of Integrity”

Ontario Music Fund Oversight Hits Sour Note: Gov Docs Discuss “Breach of Integrity”

The Canadian music industry gathered in Calgary last weekend for the Juno Awards, the industry’s biggest awards gala that has grown into a week-long event. While the award show is the public face of the Junos, behind the scenes are years of negotiations with governments to provide millions in public funding.

With Ontario hosting the Junos twice in three years – Hamilton hosted in 2015 and Ottawa is slated to host in 2017 – the provincial Liberal government has committed to enormous taxpayer support. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) reports that according to internal documents recently obtained under the provincial access to information laws, that funding has sparked concerns within government departments due to the mushrooming budgets, inflated claims about the economic impact of the awards, and what officials have described as a “breach [of] the integrity of the objective grant assessment process.”

Earlier this year, I wrote about the problems associated with the Ontario Music Fund (OMF), the provincial government’s flagship funding program for the music industry. The fund, which is administered by the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), has doled out nearly $30 million in two years despite little public transparency on how the money has been spent and questionable claims about job creation.

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April 4, 2016 2 comments Columns
DEMO-Michelle-Zatlyn-0796 by The DEMO Conference (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/rYwugJ

Canada’s Innovation Challenge: Keeping The Billion Dollar Club At Home

From the moment the Liberal government took office last fall, it left no doubt that innovation was going to be a top priority. Gone was Industry Canada, replaced by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, with Navdeep Bains, a close confidant of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, installed as the responsible minister.

Last week’s budget continued the emphasis on innovation, promising $150 million in 2017-2018 for an innovation agenda. The full details have yet to be revealed, but the budget also added tax reforms to create investment incentives (and quietly dropped a tax change that would have hurt start-up companies), support for innovation clusters, and increased dollars for scientific research.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the government says its goal is to make Canada a “centre of global innovation”, a significant challenge given that studies persistently point to Canada’s innovation gap. Last year, the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC), a government-backed group, concluded that Canada “was not globally competitive” and that “it is falling further behind global competitors and facing a widening gap with the world’s top five performing countries.”

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March 29, 2016 4 comments Columns