Saturday February 15, 2014
Appeared in the Toronto Star on February 15, 2014 as Digital Strategy Finally Takes Shape With Federal Budget
In 2010, the Canadian government launched a consultation on developing a
national digital strategy. Despite obvious interest from provincial
governments, technology companies, and the public, the issue has
languished for years. Successive industry ministers have rolled out
various digital policies such as copyright reform, wireless changes, and
anti-spam rules, yet a comprehensive vision and target for the Canadian
digital world has remained elusive.
Judging from this week’s federal budget, the wait may be coming to an
end. The national digital strategy will undoubtedly reference past
accomplishments, but the latest budget features many of the remaining
ingredients for a digital strategy.
The main issue of any digital strategy is connectivity and access to the
Internet. The government has set a target of "near-universal" access
to broadband, which it defines as download speeds of at least 5 megabits
per second (Mbps), within five years. That is consistent with the
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s target
from 2011, but at a far slower pace, since the commission talked about
universal access by the end of 2015, not 2019. Moreover, the Canadian
speed target is slow when compared to other countries, where the
European Union has set a goal of 30 Mbps by 2020 and Australia envisions
100 Mbps by 2016.
In addition to broadband access, the government is continuing support
for computers in schools and embracing regulation of wireless services
in an effort to address ongoing competition concerns. Indeed, the
government seems to be backing away from a commitment to four wireless
competitors in every region, opting instead for a more aggressive
regulatory framework that includes wholesale wireless roaming rules,
mandated tower sharing, and tougher enforcement powers.
Beyond connectivity and access, the government’s digital strategy
includes electronic commerce regulation, intellectual property reform,
and a further commitment to open data.
Electronic commerce issues often fall within provincial jurisdiction
(for example, online contracting), but the government seems to have
identified several areas where it can play a role. The anti-spam
legislation that takes effect later this year is the most obvious policy
intervention, but the budget contains two more.
First, the government has launched a consultation on the collection of
sales on e-commerce transactions. Its consultation document notes that
it might require foreign-based websites to register with the Canada
Revenue Agency and charge sales tax on e-commerce sales to Canadian
Second, the government says it plans to introduce anti-money laundering
and anti-terrorist financing regulations for virtual currencies such as
Bitcoin. The budget cites a 2013 Senate report for support for the move,
though that report does not reference virtual currencies. There have
been some efforts elsewhere to address money laundering concerns with
online currencies, but some remain skeptical over whether the concern is
On the intellectual property front, the government has already passed
copyright reform and will soon also pass Bill C-8, the
anti-counterfeiting bill that includes major reforms to Canadian
trademark law. It recently tabled five intellectual property treaties
that focus on the administration of intellectual property rights. The
budget confirms the intent to pass the amendments needed to ratify or
accede to those treaties.
The budget also includes new money to support open data initiatives.
Open data, which refers to open access to government databases, has made
real progress in recent years in Canada. The budget commits millions to
a new Open Data Institute.
The actual Canadian digital strategy may not look identical to this -
privacy and security did not fall within the budget but would presumably
be part of a strategy - but there is enough in this week’s budget to
provide observers with a clear signal that the missing national digital
strategy may soon be found.
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce
Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.
TagsShareSaturday February 15, 2014
Wednesday February 12, 2014
Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post
about how the Canadian digital economy strategy seemed to be taking
shape. The government had moved on several legislative issues including
copyright and spam, it was bringing together federal and provincial
ministers to discuss the issue, the open government initiative was on
the way, and telecom policy was beginning to emerge as a major concern.
All that was missing was an announcement, identification of some
targets, and the signal that this was a priority. While I'm told that
some in government also saw it this way, then-Industry Minister
Christian Paradis let the moment slip away and the entire digital strategy
become little more than a punchline.
Yesterday's federal budget marks the revival of the Canadian digital strategy.
The government will undoubtedly still point to past accomplishments
(the budget references reforms that date back to the 2006, so digital
economy activities from several years ago are surely fair game), but
this budget provides many of the remaining ingredients for a digital
strategy (Mark Goldberg offers a similar perspective). Once again, all that is left is missing is the official
announcement from Industry Minister James Moore. So what will the Canadian digital strategy contain? Based
on this budget, it would seem to include:
TagsShareWednesday February 12, 2014
Friday September 16, 2011
The International Telecommunications Union yesterday released its Measuring
the Information Society 2011 report,
which benchmarks information society developments worldwide. The
centrepiece of the report is the ICT Development Index, which tracks 11
different indicators focused on access, use, and skills (the eleven
indicators are: fixed telephone line subscriptions, mobile
subscriptions, international Internet bandwidth, households with a
computer, households with Internet access, percentage of individuals
using the Internet, broadband subscriptions, mobile broadband
subscriptions, adult literacy, secondary and tertiary enrolment). Among
the indicators, skills are worth 20 percent, while access and use count
for 40 percent each. The news for Canada was not good as we fell from
20th in 2008 (the last
time the ITU issued its report) to 26th worldwide today. Topping the
list was South Korea, but Canada finds itself behind much of Europe,
the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and several other Asian
While the National Post's Terence Corcoran tries
to cherry pick
one indicator - Internet use - to argue that the report shows Canada as
a leader, he actually gets it wrong as the report shows Canada in 13th
spot, not 2nd as he suggests (pages 154-55 of the report provides the full
breakdown showing Canada behind South Korea, the UK, New Zealand, the
Netherlands among others). Canada's rank on the access and use
|Percentage of individuals using
|Fixed broadband Internet
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants
|Active mobile broadband
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants
|Fixed telephone subscriptions
per 100 inhabitants
|Mobile subscriptions per 100
|International Internet bandwidth
Bit/s per Internet user
|Percentage of households with
|Percentage of households with
It is hard to see how anyone can look at these results and conclude
that Canada is a leader in ICT development. Canada ranks outside the
top ten in every indicator and an incredible 111th on mobile
subscriptions and 57th on mobile broadband. The reality is that
virtually every neutral survey or study over the past several years has
had other countries leapfrogging ahead of Canada as we reap the results
of a missing national digital strategy, restrictions on foreign
investment, and ongoing competitive concerns.
TagsShareFriday September 16, 2011
Monday May 17, 2010
Last week Industry Minister Tony Clement unveiled the government’s much-anticipated Digital Economy Strategy consultation. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the consultation is slated to run for two months and includes an online forum, face-to-face meetings, and a 40-page document that sets out key areas of concern. Five areas for discussion are identified: capacity to innovate, building a world-class digital infrastructure, growing the ICT industry, creating digital content, and building digital skills.
Skeptics will argue that the consultation is long overdue or perhaps even comes too late. Canada has inarguably lost considerable ground in comparison with many other countries around the world that were quicker to identify and implement digital strategies. While the delays have been marked by a gradual hollowing-out of the Canadian tech sector and sliding global rankings on network and wireless connectivity, Clement has firmly established himself as the most committed Industry Minister on digital issues since John Manley in the late 1990s.
Prioritizing digital issues is a first step toward remedying the situation, but a decade worth of policy neglect will not be solved overnight. Despite lingering doubts about whether the government is listening - many Canadians fear that last summer’s copyright consultation may be largely ignored - those concerned with Canada’s digital future can ill-afford to stay silent on the sidelines. I hope to address some of the substantive questions raised by the consultation in a future column, but the more immediate concern are two unasked questions that cut across all issues - who will lead the strategy and how will the government pay for it.
TagsShareMonday May 17, 2010